Dummylandia


The first 'little man' in my life was Charlie McCarthy, the famous pint size American dummy created by Norwegian American Edgar Bergen, father of the famous actress Candice, in the 20s and 30s. The Charlie MacCarthy show was sponsored by Coca Cola on CBS from 1949-52. When he died Edgar Bergen was buried with Charlie leaving all his money to his dummy, who even had his own bedroom, and not to his traumatised daughter, the lovely Candice! 

 

In 1978 I had, through happenstance, become an antique games and dexterity puzzle dealer between London and Paris. I was supplying Jane Bouvard for her forthcoming games shop in the Rue Frederic Sauton, Paris 5eme.  I started off with antique games, toys and puzzles but then incorporated clowns and circus ephemera and posters. Marionettes and puppets were soon added, Mr Punch in England and Policinelle in France. Then Pierrot, Harlequin, Comedia del'Arte,  Tarot cards and Cartomancy in France plus Fortune Telling and Palmistry along with the Occult in England. Plus optical toys, magic lanterns (Pre Cinema). This was a big umbrella! I was meeting interesting collectors, dealers and curators of small niche private museums. 

 

Ooh la la I was into The Performing Arts and that included books, objects, prints and apparatus on Conjuring, Juggling , Diabolo, Shadowgraphy, Bilboquet and the spinning Top.  Then Charlie arrived and I became interested in Ventriloquism and its history. Small and large dummies came my way. Leonard Insull was the doyen of creating dummies for L. Davenport Magic from the 20's and 30's onwards. I only saw Insull dummies in England, never in France. 

 

The value depended on the number of movements the dummy could be made to do. Winking, opening his mouth, top lips and bottom lips. moving his eyes, smoking, wiggling his ears et al.  My main client was Retonio Breitenmoser from Switzerland. He had a large collection in Appenzell, known for it lace handkerchieves where his wife had a factory probably funding his passion. He already owned a Mechanical Instrument and conjuring museum. I was already dealing in Barrel organ prints called the Hurdy Gurdy in England their origin being the French Vielle. It was a vast musical subject but I remember prints from the aIllustrated London News I used to sell depicting swarthy Italian immigrants with a monkey at fairs in the Victorian Era. 

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I first was introduced to Retonio in Paris. We arranged to meet at the brocante fair at La Villette (the old Parisian abattoir) under the large clock. I did notice a tall man with black curly hair running but who disappeared out of the entrance. I waited by the clock above the entrance/exit but he did not materialise. How could I know the clock was inside the building and outside too? I waited inside and he waited outside. A double sided clock!  Yes, he was indeed the running man! I read on Google that his passion for his art and also gambling, led him to Las Vegas where he split from his wife and four children. 

 

My magical husband Martin Breese who refused to become the thirteenth dummy,  suggested I got rid of the 'men' in my life especially as the gas man nearly had a heart attack when he came to read the meter early one morning and saw all twelve 'men' silently sitting in chairs around my lounge at dawn!

 

Martin had come across Valentine Vox, author of 'I can see your lips moving'. Valentine had England's largest collection of dummies and conveniently lived in London before eventually becoming an American citizen settling in Las Vegas. Being a clever magic dealer Martin contacted and sold Vox's enormous collection to Retonio on a commission basis. The Vent section of his already established museum in Appenzell was created and Valentine moved to Switzerland to be the curator before finally settling in Las Vegas where  he opened a museum and organised the Ventriloquist Convention in Vegas from 1997 to 2003. 

 

After that  I rarely saw another dummy even for sale. They just disappeared. The film 'Magic' came out with Anthony Hopkins and of course the large rather ugly poster was bought by Martin. The only other movie with the subject of the dummy taking over its Master was in 'Dead of Night' with Michael Redgrave made in 1945.  

 

Then Martin began to collude with the British Ventriloquist Terri Rogers and published 'her' books and tricks. Terri (1937-1999) who was born Ivan Southgate, was a transsexual Ventriloquist and magician. Her dummy was called Shorty.  She was on the working men's clubs circuit and so had a rough audience yelling insults at Shorty. So she would perform using her natural male voice hurling profanities. A psychologist would have had a field day. On top of that she lived with Martin's old friend Val Andrews, magician and author of pastiche Sherlock Holmes novels which Martin published becoming the major Sherlock Holmes publisher in the U.K. for this genre. Both Terri and Val, the odd couple, have now passed away as has Martin.

 

The last dummy to enter my life was a large scout called Baden. He arrived at our house in Notting Hill when Martin bought a large collection of magic books from the widow of a magician/ventriloquist in The Isle of Man.

 

A very big container arrived one day with apparatus, zigzags, a guillotine, magic books and tricks galore. Finally Baden emerged from the packaging dressed in Kaki, a scout's whistle around his neck, a green kerchief and an old green scout's cap plus brown leather shoes! He was large and occupied a whole chair. His outfit had to be cleaned and so Martin went across the road to the Cypriot dry cleaners who refused to touch the garment as it was too dirty and old! So Martin lovingly hand washed his clothes and thus Baden joined our family. I now forget if we sold him before we moved to Brighton but he is gone into Dummylandia to join his brothers.  

 

All that remains of my past life connected with dummies are photos in an album of some of my 'children' from the 70s plus a Polaroid framed photo of myself sitting regally in a Rococo pink and gold antique French chair in a gold lame opera coat with Charlie on my knee. 

 

The photo was taken by the punk artist Jo Brocklehurst (1935-2006) who was a friend of my neighbour Angelo Cinque in the 80s. I met her at a lunch in his flat not knowing she was a known artist exhibiting punk portraits at the Francis Kyle gallery in The West End. She asked me to sit for her. When she arrived at my flat she was displeased I was not all dressed up looking decadent in the gold lame opera coat, 50's bling Hollywood necklace that I had exchanged for working at a Brighton trade fair selling shell jewellery, Victorian gold and jet earrings and black sexy fishnet tights. She ordered me to change! I obeyed! 

 

She sketched me in pastels for an hour or so and finished off the portrait later using her reference photograph.  Later a friend, with the same surname suggested, I should go to the West End gallery and check out her work. I did and saw my portrait in a plans chest nestling with her Punks.  Jo and I met in Chelsea for a coffee at Picasso's on the Kings Road and I bought moi-meme!  Later I was luxuriously framed in purple silk, part of the inner black and gold hand painted frame at the prestigious framers in Kensington behind my flat in Hamston House. I forget the framers name but recall he was the brother-in-law of Sir John Mills, the actor, having married Annette Mills his sister. 

 

I am now hung with Charlie in state above my bed in Brighton. Our image frozen in time. All the voices have gone to Dummylandia. Silence reigns! 

 

 

Written in Brighton under my Regal portrait in November 2015.