Fragments of Phil D’Rey

Some scattered bits on ventriloquist Phil D’Rey (David Cuthbert, d. 1970), pictured above with his wife/assistant Nell Calling (aka Sandra the Sand Artist) and the dummy “Dugan” or “Skinny Dugan.”

Originally from England, D’Rey started out as a self-taught piano player, performing in movie houses and tent shows. Eventually he developed a full tool box of variety skills. Primarily he was a ventriloquist, magician, and comedian/emcee, but he also performed pantomime and chapeaugraphy.

D’Rey played Ireland for many years and eventually settled in New Orleans in the mid-1940s. He played nightclubs and burlesque venues in the French Quarter, and also toured regionally to cities like St. Louis. He was known for a million highly original gimmicks. In addition to Dugan, he had Gangrene, his Gorilla sidekick; Drunken Hines, a life-sized dummy that walked; a “silent” vent routine, and a small monkey sock puppet who played the trumpet.

D’Rey married at least seven times, and had children all over the world. His namesake, David Cuthbert Jr, was a long-time writer for the Times-Picayune, as well as a local tv producer and musical comedy impresario.

For more on vaudeville and related arts, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.