A.O. Duncan was one of the first practitioners of ventriloquism on the vaudeville stage, dating perhaps to the age of “variety” in the 1870s. References to him from the newspapers of the day abound, always in the most glowing terms, performing at such venues as Miner’s Theatre, Tony Pastor’s, Hyde & Behman’s, Koster & Bials, Keith’s Union Square and Hammerstein’s Olympia. Referring to his craft as “vocal gyrations” he would bring out several of his “mechanical figures”, performing numerous comical characters, including at least one stock Irishman. He is said to have influenced such other prominant vents as John Cooper and The Great Lester. I find references to him performing as late as 1920, by which time he was then referred to as a beloved American institution. But perhaps his longest lasting legacy was his son Bud Duncan, of the comedy team of Ham and Bud.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.