"He's a ventriloquist on the radio -
how do you know he's not moving his lips?"
Woody Allen's Film "Radio Days"
Ventriloquism has its roots in an ancient Grecian form of divination known as gastromancy, or the practice of interpreting "belly noises" as messages from the gods.
Just as Spiritualism eventually led to Stage Magic, Ventriloquism became a popular form of stage craft. Artists who could "throw". their voice were a hit with audiences through the years. The Great Lester, a popular vaudeville ventriloquist, described his craft: "Ventriloquism is a matter of artful deception wherein the tongue is quicker than the ear." By the end of the Vaudeville era audiences were pretty much "in" on the trick, and ventriloquist acts began to put greater emphasis on the comic potential of their acts; the dummy could say and do things that a live person could never get away with.
Although audiences "got" the idea that the ventriloquist was supposedly operating a puppet and talking without moving his lips, fiction writers, and especially horror and mystery writers, chose not to suspend their disbelief in a number of stories. Having a midget or dwarf take the place of a wooden dummy is a very popular pot device, often when there is murder involved, like in the Quiet, Please episode "3000 Words". Sometimes the evil ventriloquist and his false dummy are merely out to rob, as in the case of Blackstone the Magician and "The Educated Dummy". Off course the best can combine the two like "The Ventriloquist" does in The Cisco Kid.
The trick of "throwing the voice", making the ventriloquist's voice seem to come from an inanimate object, is always an audience favorite, but as a plot device it is well used by Heroes looking for an edge. Captain Midnight, and Superman both used the trick to get one over on the bad guys.
Nothing says classic radio and ventriloquism than two little word: Bergen & McCarthy.
Edgar Bergen learned ventriloquism at the age of 11 from a pamphlet. He used the image of a sassy newspaper boy as a model for a figure he had made by a Chicago woodcarver. He named the dummy for both the paperboy and the carver: Charlie McCarthy.
Bergen performed with McCarthy to put himself through college, but became too entranced with performing to give it up, and dropped out of college. When he travelled to NY he was found by Rudy Vallee, who booked him on his show. Bergen and McCarthy were such a hit that they became regulars on the Chase and Sanborn Hour, beginning in 1937, beginning what would be an 11 year run.
This collection contains episodes from all various series featuring scripts and broadcasts featuring ventriloquists and their dummies: entertaining, insulting, and creating and meyhem over the airwaves!
One last Old time Radio fact about Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy: in the popular TV drama, The Waltons, which took place during the Great Depression, the Bergen and McCarthy program are often heard playing in the background as Grandpa listens to the family radio. This is a forgivable anachronism, even when it happened in the show's pilot, the TV Christmas movie, The Home Coming. Do you know who played Grandpa Walton in that pilot? That's right, Edgar Bergen!
See also: Paul Winchell & Jerry Mahoney Show, Bergen & McCarthy, Educating Archie, and the article, Ventriloquists in Old Time Radio.