Terri Rogers: Pathbreaking Trans Ventriloquist

Ventriloquists frequently change their dummies, but here’s a rare case of a dummy getting a new ventriloquist.

Terri Rogers (born Ivan Southgate, 1937-1999) started out with a music hall vent act in the 1950s, accompanied by his wooden partner Shorty Harris. A biological male, he underwent a sex change in the early ’60s, and this is how Shorty got a new lap to sit on. In addition to whatever personal fulfillment the operation brought to Rogers, the alteration also brought a wonderful new dimension to the act. Now fully female, with a conventionally female voice, she continued to provide Shorty’s male one. She herself was traditionally feminine and posh (she sometimes wore a tiara), whereas Shorty was cynical, macho, foul-mouthed and working class. You could easily write a dissertation on the levels of such an act: existential, metaphorical, sexual, political. I hope someone has. If so, it may well have been Rogers, who was not just a performing genius (watch her clips on Youtube), but also the other sort of genius too. She invented several magic illusions for the likes of David Copperfield and Doug Henning, and wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of ten books.

After music hall dried up, Rogers was a star of London cabarets and BBC variety shows. At the height of her fame, she brought her act abroad to venues like Hollywood’s Magic Castle and nightclubs in Las Vegas. She died of a stroke in 1999 at the age of 66.

Read about Bobbie Kimber, another gender-bending British ventriloquist here.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,