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 40s. The Charlie MacCarthy show was sponsored by Coca Cola on CBS 1949-52. When he died he was buried with Charlie having left 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 a games and dexterity puzzle dealer between London and Paris. I was supplying Swiss American Jane Bouvard for her forthcoming games shop in the Rue Frederic Sauton, Maubert Mutualite, Paris 5em.

I started off with antique games and puzzles but then incorporated clowns, circus Ephemera and circus posters. Marionettes and puppets were soon added, Mr Punch in England and Policinelle in France. Then along came Pierrot, harlequin and Comedia dell’Arte,  Tarot cards and Cartomancy in France plus Fortune Telling and Palmistry in England.

Ooh la la I was into The Performing Arts and that included books, objects, prints and apparatus on Conjuring, Juggling , Diabolo, Pre-cinema (optical toys), Shadowgraphy, Bilboquet and the spinning Top. This was a big magical colourful rainbow umbrella and I was meeting experienced collectors with private museums, dealers and curators of small niche private museums. I was also a member of the Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain. 

Then Charlie arrived and I became interested in Ventriloquism. Small and large dummies came my way. leonard Insull was the doyen of creating dummies for L. Davenport Magic in London by the British Museum from the 20s and 30s 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 and bottom lips, 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 brought over by Italian immigrants. I was a member of the Music Box Society. 

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 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 and outside too. I waited inside and he waited outside. Yes, he was indeed the running man! 

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 of them silently sitting in chairs and on poofs around my lounge at dawn!

Martin had come across English 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 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 I believe he opened another museum and organised the Ventriloquist Convention in Vegas from 1997 to 2003. 

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

Martin began to collude with the British Ventriloquist Terri Rodgers (1937-1999) and published 'her' books and tricks. Terri was on the working men's clubs circuit and so had a rough audience yelling back insults at her dummy called 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 pastiche publisher in the U.K. for this genre. Both Terri and Val have now passed away as has Martin.

The last dummy to enter our lives was a large scout who we called Baden. He arrived 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 and books and tricks galore. Finally Baden emerged from the packaging dressed in Kaki, a scouts' whistle around his neck a green kerchief and an old green scouts cap plus tiny brown real 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 old! Thus Martin lovingly hand washed his clothes and so 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 the photos in a photo album of my ‘children’ from the late 70s plus a Polaroid framed photo of myself sitting regally in state in a Rococo pink and gold antique French bergere in my flat in Alexandra Mansions dressed in a black and gold lame opera coat with Charlie on my lap. 

The cherished photo was taken by the punk artist Jo Brocklehurst (1935-2006) who was a friend of my graphics designer neighbour Angelo Cinque in 8 Alexandra Mansions in the 70s. I had met her at a lunch in his flat unaware that she was a known artist having an exhibition of punk portraits at the Francis Kyle gallery in The West End. 

She asked me to sit for her. When she arrived one evening Madame was displeased because I was not looking decadent in my opera coat, with heavy makeup, black and gold jet earrings and sexy black fishnet tights plus my bling coveted Hollywood necklace!i was ordered to change. I obeyed! She sketched me in pastels for a hour or so and finished off the portrait later using the reference photo she had shot of me. 

Later a friend suggested I should look at the gallery and check out the value of her artwork. I did and discovered my image lying in a plans chest nestling amongst naked punks. I knew I had to save my reputation! 

Jo and I met at Picasso’s on Kings Road in trendy Chelsea and I bought moi-meme rolled up! Later I was framed in purple silk within a black and gold frame befitting the Queen that I am by the prestigious picture framers behind Hamston House in Kensington. I recall the owner was a friend of Eric Gill and the brother-in-Law of the actor Sir John Mills, married to Muffin the Mule creator Annette Mills. 

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

Written in Brighton in bed under my regal portrait November 2015. Updated after reading it on 7.5.18 at Shine So Hard Poetry evening.