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December 21: Paul Winchell

Lawrence Bush
December 22, 2009
winch9Ventriloquist Paul Winchell was born on this date in 1922. With his dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, Winchell hosted one of the most popular children’s television shows of the mid-1960s and (along with Shari Lewis) introduced the MAD magazine generation to the magic of ventriloquism. Winchell was also an inventor, the first person to patent an artificial heart that could be implanted in a person’s chest. His other inventions included a disposable razor, a blood plasma defroster, a retractable fountain pen and battery-heated gloves. In 1968, Winchell won a $17.8 million lawsuit against Metromedia for destroying the only remaining tapes of his “Winchell-Mahoney Time” show, which the company had erased in a dispute with the performer over syndication rights. To see Paul Winchell in action, look below. “I think television defeats ventriloquism.” —Paul Winchell

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.