May 13 was the natal day of William Shakespeare “W.S.” Berger (1878-1972).
Berger was not a professional entertainer. In fact, he spent his entire working life at the Cambridge Tile Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, working his way up from the mailroom to the company’s President. But ventriloquism, much like its allied art of stage magic, is a field to which amateurs have been known to make crucial contributions. And Berger’s name remains revered within the ventriloquial field. An amateur vent and collector since his teenage years, after leaving manufacturing, Berger became President of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists, tripling its membership, and putting out its official magazine The Oracle. His extensive personal collection of hundreds of ventriloquial figures (a.k.a. “dummies”), books, photographs, playbills, correspondence, and related ephemera became the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, now a world center for information-sharing about this ancient art. The Museum also presents an annual ConVENTion, attracting ventriloquists (and those that love them) from all over the world.
A couple of years back the producers of the film I’m No Dummy declared Berger’s birthday to be International Ventriloquism Day, and that’s good enough for me. Not a peep from anyone this year about it; I think it may be because Vent Haven is undergoing a major renovation at the moment. But we honor the date here on Travalanche and we hope you will, too! A good way to do so would be to browse through the almost 100 articles we’ve written about ventriloquism and puppetry here on Travalanche! Also, while the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists has been defunct for decades, and several similar professional organizations have come and gone, there is now the International Ventriloquists Society, which has this excellent history of the professional community,
For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.