Charlie McCarthy is perhaps the most famous ventriloquist's dummy in American history. Charlie, the creation of popular actor-ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (1903–1978), was a wise-for-his-years adolescent. Garbed in top hat and monocle (one round lens serving to correct vision, instead of the usual two-lensed glasses), he endlessly flirted with females and spouted wise-cracks to Bergen, his "guardian." Even though he was carved from wood, Bergen made McCarthy seem so authentic that audiences came to view the dummy as a real person.
Bergen conjured up McCarthy while still in high school and had him built at a cost of $35. The pair first teamed up in vaudeville (see entry under 1900s—Film and Theater in volume 1), then performed on radio and in films. Bergen added two additional dummies to his act: hayseed Mortimer Snerd and spinster Effie Klinker. (A hayseed is an unsophisticated country person; a spinster, an unmarried woman beyond the usual age of marrying.) Although both were popular, neither was as beloved as Charlie McCarthy.
In 1937, Bergen earned a special Academy Award for creating Charlie. The special wooden Oscar presented to Bergen had a movable jaw, just like Charlie's. He influenced countless ventriloquists and puppeteers for generations to come, including Jim Henson (1936–1990), of Muppets (see entry under 1970s—TV and Radio in volume 4) and Sesame Street (see entry under 1970s—TV and Radio in volume 4) fame, who dedicated his feature film The Muppet Movie (1979) to Bergen. Bergen willed Charlie McCarthy to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
For More Information
Bergen, Candice. Knock Wood. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984.