Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, November 27, 2017

One Pelham Audience Member REALLY Did Not Like the Act in 1925

In 1925, one Pelhamite tried his act "on the dog" -- literally.  

During the early years of the 20th century, and perhaps well before, theatrical parlance provided that a new act was "tried on the dog" when performed in front of preliminary audiences before the act opened to the general public.  Indeed, turn of the century newspaper stories are replete with references to acts that were "tried on the dog" -- something we would reference today as "in previews."  Pelhamites even tried their local acts "on the dog" as today's Historic Pelham article demonstrates.

One of the most important civic and philanthropic organizations in Pelham during the 1920s, 1930s, and years later was the Pelham "Men's Club" -- not unlike today's Pelham Civics.Association.  Each winter, the Pelham Men's Club held a major fundraiser.  It was an annual local talent show that was one of the most anticipated and successful charitable entertainments of the year.

The Men's Club Talent Show was so important that, like today's Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church "Huguenot Cabaret," prospective "acts" practiced months in advance for the grand event!  

Given the embarrassment involved, we don't know the name of our local ventriloquist.  We know only the name of his ventriloquist dummy as "Joe."  He and Joe, however, had spirit and the desire to win.

Months before the talent show, Joe's owner invested $100 (roughly $1,370 in today's dollars) in a spectacular ventriloquist's doll.  Joe's owner, however, was not a ventriloquist.  He had to learn the art and learn it for the Men's Club Talent Show fast.  He did.  

He practiced and practiced with his new dummy to prepare for the big night.  He worked alone for months to teach himself the art.  Finally he thought himself ready.  He developed a signature opening that some of us might recognize today as similiar to that of "Tony the Tiger" of "Frosted Flakes" fame who always said "Their G-R-R-R-E-A-T"  Dummy Joe, however, overemphasized "G-R-R-R. . . . . "  That seems to have been dummy Joe's downfall.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, 1925, our Pelham ventriloquist decided it was time to try his act "on the dog."  He decided to take his act with Joe the dummy into "previews" by inviting Pelham neighbors and friends to his home for a very special performance.

The big night arrived and a host of family, friends, and neighbors crowded into the new ventriloquist's home.  One friend arrived early, proudly, with a young and spirited bulldog that he had picked up as a new pet only the morning of that day.  The bulldog puppy became the center of attention, wagging and slobbering as everyone stroked, petted, and complimented the pup.  

Finally, the audience settled expectantly.  Our ventriloquist, owner of Joe, proudly plopped his new dummy on his knee.  He turned Joe's head toward the crowd.  Stalling his lips, the ventriloquist mumbled:  "Well, how are you tonight, Joe?"

Joe, the dummy, replied somewhat mechanically but "vividly":  "I'm G-R-R-EAT!  G-R-R-E-A-T!"

"G-R-R-R . . . . "

All Hell broke loose.  The bulldog puppy knew a threat with its wooden head, turning woodenly as it growled menacingly "G-R-R-R. . ."  The pup attacked.  

From the corner of the room came the rush of the bulldog.  The strange gutteral "G-R-R-R" had been too much.  

There was a "short struggle."  The bulldog puppy, however, had much the best of it.  The ventroliquist -- unnamed to this day -- and his dummy, Joe, had "much the worst of it."

Thankfully, the act was removed from the program of the Pelham's Men's Club Talent Show in 1925.  

Bulldog Puppy

*          *          *          *          *

"One of the members of the Men's Club is in favor of the everlasting muzzling of dogs, thusly:  Knowing that there is to be a local talent night at the club during the coming winter, our hero had invested over $100 in a ventriloquist dummy with which he has practiced assiduously in order to be ready to present a specialty at that particular time.  In theatrical parlance an act is 'tried on the dog' by being presented to a preliminary audience before authorized production.  Consequently our aforesaid hero gathered into his home some of his neighbors to listen to a production of his ventriloquial act.  One of the neighbors brought along a bulldog which had been presented to him that day and was the object of much admiration.  The show was ready and the emulator of Valentine Vox sat himself in a chair adjusted his grip of the dummy and started 'Well, how are you tonight, Joe?'  This to the dummy, who replied mechanically but very vividly, 'I'm g-r-r-eat, g-r-r-eat, g-r-r- ------' that was all.  From the corner of the room came the rush of the bulldog.  The strange gutteral 'g-r-r-' had been too much.  For a moment there was a short struggle, but the bulldog had much the best of it and the dummy and the ventriloquist much the worst of it.  So the act is off the Men's Club tentative programme."

Source:  [Untitled], The Pelham Sun, Nov. 27, 1925, Vol. 16, No. 39, p. 2, col. 2.

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