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The Ventriloquist of the 60s

December 21, 2017

Ventriloquist and voice actor Paul Winchell (Wilchinsky) was born in New York City on this date in 1922. His grandparents had emigrated to the U.S. from Poland and Austria-Hungary. With his two dummy “sidekicks,” 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. (In 1968, he 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.) He was also the voice behind many well-known animated characters, including Winnie the Pooh’s Tigger, Gargamel of The Smurfs, and villainous Dick Dastardly in multiple series by Hanna-Barbera. Winchell was an inventor, too — the first person to patent an implantable artificial heart. Among his other inventions were a disposable razor, a blood plasma defroster, and battery-heated gloves. Together with actors Richard Dreyfuss and Ed Asner, Winchell campaigned in the 1980s to alleviate malnutrition in Africa through the cultivation there of tilapia fish, which thrives in brackish water. Winchell died in 2005. To see him in action, look below.

“Television and its use of computers can make everything talk, so there’s no need for the art of ventriloquism anymore. I don’t think young kids today would even understand it.” —Paul Winchell