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Convention Anecdotes 2006

Central Florida Ventriloquist Association November Meeting

Bob Fisher's Convention Memory

Chris Donahoe to Join Hospitality Committee

Funniest Convention Open Mic Act: Cecil Carpenter

Senior Showcase 2005

David Crone's First Convention Memories

Pictures That Talk: Sam Caron

Al Stevens' Convention Memories

Pictures That Talk: Carol Greene & Val Hilliker

December 2006

Central Florida Ventriloquist Association November Meeting

by Annie Roberts

On November 19th, the Central Florida Ventriloquist Association met at the home of Dan and Renea Bratton...yeah, so?  "What's the big deal?" you may be asking yourself.  Well, the big deal is that this is the last regional ventriloquist association that is still active.   Comprised of about 16 members at this point, the CFVA group meets every other month at a member's house to talk about all things vent.  The group was established in 1999, and Aunita Padgett is the only founding member still part of the group. John Parisi describes the meetings as, "A shot in the arm. It really gets you excited about vent."  It's like the energy and excitement you get from attending the convention but on a smaller scale.  The members will talk about current issues, like what kinds of shows they're doing or figures they're building.  Plus, they get to discuss problems each might be having with someone who could offer real insight based on his own experience.  It's a great time of sharing and fellowship.  


This meeting was attended by:

  • Dan and Renea Bratton

  • John Parisi

  • Al Stevens

  • Donald Woodford

  • Robert Anthony

  • Annie Roberts 

After delicious sandwiches and snacks provided by the Brattons (food always makes a meeting better), everyone started discussing how he got interested in ventriloquism in the first place.  The stories were not what I expected.  

Al Stevens became interested in vent as a teenager from the Max Terhune westerns on TV.  Terhune used a Frank Marshall figure named Elmer (he now resides in Vent Haven Museum).  Al said Terhune was a terrible vent technically, but he loved it because it was on TV every day after school.  Elmer wasn't in every show so you never knew if you would see him or not.  Howdy Doody was also on TV at the time, but the material was for little kids and didn't interest a teenage Stevens.  Al did watch Howdy Doody for the puppetry, though. There just wasn't much vent on TV at that time because most vents were doing live shows for adults.  He made his first puppet, a robot, out of tin cans.  Al thought ventriloquism would impress the girls, and when it didn't, he gave it up.  When Al got to his 50's, he took up ventriloquism again when impressing girls was not so important. 

Dan Bratton was confined to a wheelchair in the 2nd grade due to rheumatic fever.  During this inactive period he happened to see Edgar Bergen's You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.  That's when he started pestering his parents for a dummy.  Plus he tried making dummies on his own out of wig heads, baling wire, anything!  As Dan says, "These were rough!"



Donald Woodford started in 2001 after he'd seen a friend perform a short routine at a social gathering.  Donald had been fascinated by Paul Winchell and Shari Lewis growing up but he thought you had to have special talent to do ventriloquism.  The ability to see ventriloquism live, in person made it seem possible.  After watching his friend perform, that got him started.  


Many of these guys are also making figures.  Al Stevens made his own Uncle Sweeter. Dan Bratton has two or three works in progress.  Robert Anthony said he's doing more figure making than performing these days.  Donald Woodford brought out his Conrad Hartz figure.  Everyone admired the lightness of the figure and the expertise in Hartz's figure making ability.  

The final discussion was about performing and who's doing what.  Aside from Al Stevens' adult shows, most of the guys are doing school-type performing, with library shows and topics like 'Stanger Danger.'  Everyone shared the ins and outs of the school systems.  The meeting ended with Al Stevens doing some material with Uncle Sweeter whom he debuted this last summer at the 2006 ConVENTion.  It was a good afternoon for all.

The January meeting of the Central Florida Ventriloquist Association will be attended by Jimmy and Betty Nelson.  That promises to be a great get-together.  




CFVA Members are:

  • Robert Anthony

  • Dan Bratton

  • Margaret Davis

  • David Goboff

  • Bob Jolley

  • Jacki Manna

  • Peter Meehan

  • Aunita Padgett

  • Mike Palma

  • John Parisi

  • Michele Sovereign

  • Al Stevens

  • James Venezio Vee

  • Kay Watts

  • Donald Woodford

  • Marci

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November 2006

Bob Fisher's Convention Memory

Since many of you are lucky enough to be attending the upcoming ConVENTion I thought I'd post a couple of moments that I enjoyed while at Vent Haven.

I forgot what year it was but at the top of my fun evenings are Vent Haven was a particular Open Mic Night.  It was the year that the Open Mic was hosted by Bob Rumba as Groucho and Pete Michaels as Chico.  I still haven't laughed as hard since I did that night.  I also think that was the last time Open Mic went on as long as someone wanted to go onstage.  We were there until the wee hours.  People were standing in line waiting to go on and at times the line to go on was longer than the people in the seats.  Bob and Pete were doing their best to keep things moving but still give the performer a chance to do some stuff.  They were great!  

One other quicky about the quick wit of Pete Michaels...

The year that the Smithsonian magazine was at Vent Haven [1993] and took all those photos (again I'm not good with the year), I had a longish beard and shoulder length hair for a part I had in a PBS Civil War movie being shot after the ConVENTion in Richmond.  

At that ConVENTion after one of Pete's classes he was surrounded by many of those who had just taken the class.  I was to his far right almost behind his figure.  Pete was looking to his left where most of the people were including the person he was directly speaking to, so I didn't think he noticed me.  Without missing a beat the figure turns to me, does a startle take and says, "Hey Charles Manson! When did you get out?"  

Now I understand the slow service at Chaucer's. 

Bob Fisher 

P.S. Can you find Charles Manson in that issue of the Smithsonian Magazine with Charlie McCarthy on the cover?  I'm wearing dark glasses and holding my Juro Jerry from 1958 in the large group shot.

Westenberger, Theo. Smithsonian Dec 1993: 56-57.

Bob Fisher is circled above.  How many other people do you recognize?  Do you see Stevo with a full beard?  About Dan Horn hamming it up in the middle?  I spy Buddy Big Mountain and Judy Buch.  Of course, Bob Rumba is easy to spot.  Nacho Estrada is in there and is that Stephen Knowles in the back in a bow tie?  Doc Lowry is down front and David Pendleton is towards the back, plus Barbara Jean, Bob May, Harold Crocker, and so many familiar faces but can't put the name with it. Are you in there?

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July 2006

Chris Donahoe to Join Hospitality Committee

The Hospitality Committee is a great help during the ConVENTion.  They are busy behind the scenes more so than many realize.  You'll probably notice them first at Registration.  Some members are handing out Pre-Registration packets; others are answering questions.  All the members are welcoming people, especially the first-time attendees.  These friendly faces make our convention feel more like a family reunion in some ways than a convention. 

Once Registration is over, they work during the convention by checking badges at the doors, making sure that everyone is wearing one (it's your ticket to get in!).  This is also especially helpful later when trying to identify people for the website!  Then the Hospitality Members also introduce the lecturers or workshop leaders.  This gets the sessions started off right and keeps everything on schedule.  

Of course, if these busy bees aren't working the doors, you just might find them in Suite 179, the Hospitality Suite, hosted by Bob Hamill, Marty Hamill, and Phillip Jones. Be sure to stop in for some refreshments and casual conversation about vent.  

Hospitality favorite Nacho Estrada will be back this year.  Be sure to listen for him at the back of Canterbury Hall.  Also back for his second year on this committee is Al Moessinger.   Chris Donahoe will joining the Hospitality Committee this year.  Other members are David Fleming, Mary Fleming, Nacho, Bob Hamill, Marty Hamill, Phillip (man-with-a-camera) Jones, and Stacey Michaels.  

If you have a question and want to find a Hospitality Member, look for someone wearing a special yellow badge.  I'm sure they will be glad to help you!




2006 ConVENTion Dealers

The following dealers will be at the Vent Haven ConVENTion this year:

Diane Dunbar (convention collectibles) Brant Gilmer (figure maker) Stephen & Julie Swanson
Al Good (photographer) Puppet Planet - Michele Sovereign (figure maker) Dazzling Magic - Marty & Brenda Hahne (magic supplies)
Lee Cornell (Ventriloquism 101) MAT Puppets (figure maker) Axtell Expressions - Steve Axtell (figure maker)
Kristin L. (figure maker) Tom Ladshaw (collectibles) International Ventriloquist's Association
Mike McDade Imaginarium Galleries - Al Alfaro (figure maker) Steve Taylor
Dan Willinger (figure maker) One Way Street (puppets, books, scripts) Dan Axelrod (videos)
Bob Rumba (convention t-shirts) Joe Boley (figure maker) Selberg Studios - Tim Selberg (figure maker)
Kimberly Yeager (figure clothing & fashions) Paige Phillips-Parnell (videos) David Deneen (figure maker)


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May 2006

Funniest Convention Open Mic Act

Cecil Carpenter's first act at Vent Haven's Convention was the funniest ventriloquist act (per se) I've ever seen.   Why?   The nervousness of this humble man came through and he really got voices, lines and timing confused with his figure.   How do I know this for a fact?   Cecil called me into his room that night and wanted to talk to me.   He wanted pointers from me to get his act better.    I replied, "What pointers my friend? have the funniest act I've ever seen!"  
I really advised him to leave the act as is, as it was a specialty act in the truest sense now.    He was the "Carl Ballantine (comedy magician) act of ventriloquism."   We had the we had the natural belly laugh maker.   We were set as this was the first truly comedy ventriloquist act I've seen.
One has to remember that Cecil slept in his car at his first convention because he had no money for a room.  He was a humble man.....his heart was pure and his act hilarious.   What more could one ask for?
-Conrad Hartz

*Cecil Carpenter and Alex pictured above at the 1981 Vent Haven ConVENTion.


The first time I saw Cecil Carpenter's act was at the 1979 ConVENTion.  It was during the Senior Contest and we had sat through a number of very good acts, but nothing could prepare us for what was about to transpire.  "Cecil and Alex" took the stage and proceeded to bring the audience literally to tears.  We laughed 'til it hurt!  In fact, I cannot remember when I laughed so hard at another vent act.  Here was this gentle giant stammering clumsily through a routine that should have gone smoothly.  I remember looking at Alan Semok and asking, "Is this for real?"

Cecil would goof a line, then Alex would goof a line.  Then Cecil would say, "Well, that's just fine Alex."  And we would all double over with laughter.  His version of the Cinderella fairy tale was also a classic in comedy done in the Archie Campbell (of Hee Haw fame) style of Rindercella and she slopped her dripper.  He also did the timeless "Who's On First?" like it's never been done.  For this performance, and subsequent convention performances, he received a standing ovation.  The following year the Cecil Award was born.

I asked him how he came upon his deliberate style goofing up on stage and he told me. "Well...when I first started to perform, I tried to do it straight. But I just wasn't funny.  Then one night, I messed up my routine and it got a laugh, so I figured I might as well go for the laughs any way I could get 'em, so I just kept messin' up."  

-Pete Michaels

*Pictured above right Alan Semok, Cecil Carpenter, and John Arvites at the 1982 ConVENTion.


"Who's On First?" was one of Cecil Carpenter's most requested routines. During every presentation chaos overcame Cecil when his accomplice, Alex became confused. Cecil attempted numerous times, without success, to rerail their routine.

Cecil: Then what happened, Alex?

Alex: (answers)

Cecil: That's just great, Alex.  (pause) Wasn't that my line?

Alex: It doesn't really matter, does it?

Or Alex forgot to open his mouth. They forgot their cues and left the other one waiting. Tension grew as they plowed through their rupturing routine.  Then, wave-after-wave of laughs and howls cleansed the audience with release and relief.  Pros and amateurs laughed until they cried.  The truth was they had watched a master comedian tailor a well-thoughtout routine to best fit the audience.  Everything was planned.  Cecil had discovered on his own that audiences respond to comedy, not technique. He wanted laughs!

-David Erskine


*Pictured above left Cecil Carpenter and Alex from the 1984 ConVENTion.

*Pete Michaels' and David Erskine's excerpts reprinted with permission from Dialogue magazine Volume 8, Number 4 (Fall 1989 Issue).

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April 2006

Senior Showcase 2005

An important element of the Vent Haven ConVENTion is giving the ConVENTioneers a chance to perform and get valuable feedback from their peers and a panel of professional vents.  Each performer receives a videotape of the performance to view later and analyze, and critique sheets from three pro vents with comments and suggestions from the ones who know best.   This is a great chance to help improve each performance.  Below are the participants in the 2005 Vent Haven Senior Open Mic session.  Way to go!  




Nancy Ambrose, Framingham, MA

Let's see.......what to say....I work full time with my husband who is a veterinarian. But my passion has always been puppets and ventriloquism. When I was a kid I always played with puppets and entertained kids that I babysat for with puppets. When I went to college for education, I did programs educating children in different areas, and I always used a vent figure or a puppet. So it's always been a hobby. When I got my Master's Degree as a  Child Life Specialist and worked in pediatric wards, I used puppets all the time to help kids understand their illness. Now that I work for my husband, I volunteer three days a week at a hospital oncology ward entertaining in small groups or one on one, or doing educational play for a child, using vent figures or soft puppets. I've also gone into classrooms to help the child who is re-entering the school after being diagnosed with cancer, to help the class understand what the child has gone through and how to treat the child. Many of the kids are quiet when first diagnosed but really come out of their shell with puppets (especially with Axtells' Turtle!!). I also try to buy small puppets with mouth movement to give to the kids so they can talk back to my puppets if they don't feel like talking!. It's very rewarding. The parents always thank me and ask me to come back. I get to know the kids really well and get to know which puppet is their favorite. Even the doctors and nurses have their own favorite puppets!


Lari Henley, Marietta, GA


Lou Zocchi, Biloxi, MS


Ed Casey, Westminster, CO

Ed writes, "Eye yam a graduate of the Maher Home Course of Ventriloquism.  I make use of my skills on a daily basis.  I developed a safety show designed for younger elementary school students which debuted in Fall 2000.  I have attended and performed at the Vent Haven Ventriloquist Convention annually since 1994.  I am a participating member of ENTERTAINERS UNLIMITED (an assembly of clowns, magicians, etc.) who specialize in bringing any object to life.  I perform at elementary schools, libraries, and walkarounds."

David Crone, Columbus, OH

I've been performing magic and vent since 1972.  A few years ago I returned to vent after taking some time off from active performing (been focused on raising my kids and working too many hours in my day job).  My focus has been on the regional show with emphasis on civic organizations and churches.  In my act I do a mix of ventriloquism with parlor magic and close-up with the occasional large-scale illusion if the venue warrants it.  My goal is to provide light, fun entertainment.  

Donald Woodford, Valrico, FL

Growing up in the 50's and 60's I was thrilled by the likes of Paul Winchell and Shari Lewis.  In the 70's-90's along came Jeff Dunham, Ronn Lucas, and David Strassman to further entertain and thrill me. During all this time I though you had to have that special talent to be able to perform as they and others do.  In 2000, I saw a friend do a short routine at a social gathering (I didn't know he performed).  It got me started on this wonderful ride.  Books, videos, websites, and my fellow vents gave me the instructional training and encouragement I needed.  It took me a year and a half to feel comfortable performing before a real social gathering. With every performance I continue to enhance my skills.  It was a thrill for my wife and I to attend our first Vent Haven Convention (it will be an annual trek).  I couldn't ask for a better reception or camaraderie.  I truly felt welcome.


Luke Hummel, Greer, SC

I started in college in 1978.  I was part of an evangelistic team one member of whom was a vent.  Over the course of the next year starting with a block of white pine wood, I built my first figure, Hiram, who is now 28 years old.  He no longer performs, but is a chancellor of sorts allowing his accumulated wisdom to flow down to those side kicks who follow in his stead, i.e. Gilbert, Wilson, Aristotle, and (coming soon to a theater near you) Thorton.  I have done, and/or do, Christian School Chapels, Church programs, banquets, parties, Retirement Homes, and week long Vacation Bible Schools.  I've been in Haiti twice and in Mexico doing shows in orphanages and hope to be in Brazil in November or early next year in an orphanage as well as in a local public school.  I have a Child Evangelism After School Program (150 plus kids) coming up in April, have recently been asked to perform throughout the day at an annual Children's Festival held here locally in May, and will be in Gettysburg, PA for a 50th Wedding Anniversary in July prior to a Church in Baltimore, Ohio on the way to Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky for this years Vent Haven ConVENTion.  I am starting a non-profit organization called, 'Dummies' n Dialogue Productions, the goal of which is to perform within public school systems doing programs on peer pressure, drug abuse, gangs, and other such social issues.  I hope to have a website up and running shortly. Other than that, I have very little to say.

Tom Wozniak, Kenosha, WI

I really started as an amateur magician as a kid in the 50's. I grew up on Paul Winchell and Shari Lewis and around the age of 8, I got my first Jerry Mahoney figure. I'd take him to school and do little routines and also had some hand puppets I'd take to school and perform with. In my teens and early 20's I was just doing a few magic shows a year like Christmas parties or scouting dinners.  During this time I got two Craig Lovik figures and incorporated them into my act.  Obviously, performing is just a small part of my magic/vent hobby. Mostly I enjoy going to shows and conventions and watching and taping TV specials.  I loved Edgar and Charlie and a few years ago got my Charlie figure from Tim Selberg.  I made up my mind that I would attempt a Bergen routine on open mike in front of the toughest audience possible and I guess I pulled it off. This July will be my 5th vent convention and I look forward to it. See you all there!

Virginia Petersen, Marietta, GA

I started learning ventriloquism in the summer of 2001 after attending I-Fest.  I perform with the Georgia Classic Club, a group of women ages 60-100.  We perform two to three times a week at luncheons, assisted living homes, senior centers, and churches.  My first puppets were the soft type puppets.  My first hard figure, Gracie, was made by Tim Cowles.  Gracie is a 32" red-haired girl who loves to shop at K-Mart and Wal-Mart.  I also adopted a thirty-year-old Lovik hard figure, Cory. Let's not forget my Axtell puppets, always a favorite with everyone.

It was difficult to get in touch with everyone to collect biographical information; however, if yours is missing and you would like it added, I would be happy to do so at anytime.  Contact Annie Roberts at  

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March 2006

First Convention Memories

by David Crone

My first convention was over 10 years ago.  The most profound memory I have is meeting Jimmy Nelson.  Like many others, I learned this crazy thing from a record and Danny O'Day figure my parents purchased through the JC Penney catalog 30+ years ago.  It was an honor to meet Jimmy and talk with him.  I was overwhelmed by what a nice guy he is.  I don't know what I was expecting, maybe more of a prima-donna or something.

My other memory is of the headliner show
with Jay Johnson emcee, Mark Merchant, Lynn Trefzger, Al Getler, and a
surprise guest.  That alone was worth the price of the convention and the effort it took to get there.   

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Pictures That Talk


Sam Caron, Sierra Vista, AZ

I started vent at age six when my aunt gave me a Jerry Mahoney puppet, and I've been venting on and off ever since. Besides being a ventriloquist, I am a child psychologist.  I use ventriloquism, magic and balloon sculpting to help me work with children. 

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February 2006

Convention Memories

by Al Stevens

My first VH Convention was in 1999. I had been away from
ventriloquism since I was a teenager. I figured the art as I had
known it had mostly died out.

Then, in about 1998, I found a copy of Winchell's video at the
library. A trailer on the video advertised the Jerry replicas. I
called Jerry Layne to order one and learned about the conventions. I
attended in 1999.

There I met Jerry Layne, Jimmy Nelson, Jeff Dunham, Bob Isaacson,
Johnny Main, Pete Michaels, Bill Boley, and many other ventriloquists
who practiced the art the way I had known it in the 1950s. I ordered
a figure from Tim Selberg, too, and began a slow reentry into the
arts of vent performing and figure making, things I had not done in
over 35 years.

Now, ventriloquism is a major part of my work as a jazz musician and

The convention introduced me to a community of people that I did not
know about. I attended again in 2000, 2003, and 2004. I'll be there
again this year.

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January 2006

Pictures That Talk

Carol Greene and Reginald Rabbit

Carol has used her puppets in a variety of ways: education, stage shows, church, walk-arounds, and many community events.  She aspires to be different, and she tries to create unusual acts.  Carol composes much of the music that her characters sing, and she plays the glockenspiel with her left hand while manipulating a figure with the right.  She performs most often for adult audiences, yet her material is suitable for families.  In 2004, she spent a month in Japan touring with Ryoko Utsunomiya as official ambassador of good will from the Santa Cruz Mountain community.  She finds performing in other countries exhilarating!


Val Hilliker and Pedro

Pedro the parrot wants to say that Val's talent is finally unleashed on the world through peace and respect shows that empower students to take responsibility for their actions and reactions to social situations.

Her puppets speak the language of the Virtues TM. and accentuate the positive to eliminate the negative.

Through the awesome art of Ventriloquism she is engaging audiences throughout North America,

with her zany style.


Val is a graduate of several comedy and acting workshops and classes including: the Cheers Project, Judy Carter's Stand-up Comedy Workshop, SCTV comedian/actor Joe Flaherty's Improvisation Workshop, Therapeutic Puppetry and Ventriloquism. She is a licensed World Laughter Leader.  

Spellbound students  laugh, listen  and learn Val's tricks to empowerment called the Chill skills through two programs, Sticks and Stones and Success. This is just way too much fun for Val who has been a ventriloquist for 30 years.

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