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Why do ventriloquists' dummies all look alike? And why do they look so goofy?

-- No Dummy, North Park

Ventriloquists' dummies look like Alfred E. Newman on day three of an amphetamine jag. Enormous heads; big, dazed-looking pop eyes; upper lips like the front end of a Volkswagen; pneumatic cheekbones; eyebrows like flippers on a pinball machine, and fat Chiclet teeth. This type of figure (as vents call their dummies) was derived from the figures used on the vaudeville stage, where ventriloquism first captured the American entertainment imagination. Features were exaggerated to play to the back of the hall and also draw attention away from the ventriloquist himself. Edgar Bergen's knee-sitter Charlie McCarthy solidified the traditional dummy look. Bergen actually made his name as ventriloquist by appearing on radio variety shows. Not exactly a high-risk professional move.

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