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Ventriloquists & Their Dummies
Paul Winchell & Jerry Mahoney - The multi-talented ventriloquist Paul Winchell and his sassy wooden sidekick Jerry Mahoney appeared on a number of television programs in the 1950s.

Paul Winchell with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead
Paul Winchell with his dummies Jerry and Knucklehead

Perhaps Winchell's most memorable program was THE PAUL WINCHELL AND JERRY MAHONEY SHOW broadcast on the NBC network from 1950-54 both in prime time and on Saturday morning.

Jerry Mahoney Clubhouse

Set in Jerry Mahoney's Clubhouse, this musical/variety/comedy featured an audience of twenty children who competed for prizes and were entertained by the antics of Jerry Mahoney, the President of the club who didn't particularly like woman.

Other clubhouse members included:

  • Knucklehead Smiff, a stupid, country bumpkin type created in 1950 (debuted in 1951 on "The Spiedel Show") who was the club's vice-president;
  • Irving the Mouse, a scholarly rodent who lived in a piece of cheese at the clubhouse and helped Knucklehead Smiff solve homework problems;
  • Jelly Bean the Snail
  • Paul Winchell who appeared as a variety of human characters.

Paul Winchell, who debuted on the MAJOR BOWES ORIGINAL AMATEUR HOUR in 1936, became a ventriloquist at the age of fourteen after reading a manual that revealed "the secrets of ventriloquism." He built his first Jerry Mahoney dummy at the age of thirteen while working at the Manhattan School of Industrial Arts.

Originally Jerry Mahoney was a hand puppet, but over time his persona was transformed from a crude dummy to a professional 42-inch wooden dummy (created by puppet carver Frank Marshall). Weighing twenty-five pounds, it was composed of wood, metal, rubber and glass eyes.

Paul Winchell also appeared on POPSICLE FIVE STAR COMEDY/ABC/1957, a short-lived musical/variety late afternoon show; TOYLAND EXPRESS/SYN/1955-56, a 15-minute weekday show produced by the Toy Guidance Council that advertised items available for Christmas; CARTOONIES/ABC/1963, a 30-minute cartoon series with Gremlin, Sheriff Saddle Head and Scat Skit cartoons; and RUNAROUND/NBC/1972-73 a Saturday morning game show where nine children answered questions and competed for prizes.

During his career Paul Winchell provided his voice-over artistic skills to hundreds of cartoons including DASTARDLY AND MUTTLEY IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES/CBS/1969-71, GOOBER AND THE GHOST CHASERS/ABC/1973-75, THE PERILS OF PENELOPE PITSTOP/1969-71, the evil wizard, Gargamel on THE SMURFS/NBC/1981-90 and Tigger the Tiger in Disney's Winnie the Pooh feature films beginning in 1968. He also appeared in episode No. 7 "Lucy and Paul Winchell" on the sitcom THE LUCY SHOW/CNS/1962.

Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney TV Fun Kit

TRIVIA NOTE: Besides his talent at vocal impressions and ventriloquism, Paul Winchell was also an inventor who held 30 patents (a disposable razor, a flameless cigarette lighter and an invisible garter belt) as well as an early artificial heart he built in 1963 which he donated to the University of Utah. Later, Dr. Robert Jarvik and other researchers at the university invented an artificial heart, dubbed the Jarvik-7, which was implanted into patients after 1982.

Jerry Mahoney and ventrioquist Paul WinchellIn January of 1980, Paul Winchell presented his dummy Jerry Mahoney to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute. Later in July, 1982, Knucklehead Smiff joined his long time wooden companion.

Born Paul Wilchen in New York City on December 21, 1922, Paul Winchell died in his sleep early Friday morning on June 24, 2005 at his home in Moorpark, California He was 82.

Earlier in his life, Winchell had contracted polio at the age of six. He overcame his disability by using a regimen of weightlifting. He also overcame his speech impediment while learning to throw his own voice as he practiced to be a ventriloquist.

Winchell is survived by his wife of 31 years, the former Jean Freeman; five children and three grandchildren.

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