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Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy

Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy:
BORN: Edgar John Berggren in Chicago, IL February 16, 1903
DIED: September 30, 1978 in Las Vegas, NV (Kidney Failure)
KNOWN AS: Radio's Greatest Ventriloquist

Edgar John (Berggren) Bergen was an American actor & radio performer, born to Swedish family, in Decatur, Michigan. He lived there until he was 16 (when his father died), then went to Chicago, where he attended Lake View High School and worked n a silent movie house.

He taught himself ventriloquism from a pamphlet when he was 11 and a few years later, commissioned as a woodcarver to make a likeness of a rascally Irish newspaper boy he knew. The head went on a puppet named Charlie McCarthy, who became Bergen's lifelong sidekick.

In 1938, Bergen was presented an Honorary Oscar (in the form of a wooden Oscar stauette) for his creation of Charlie McCarthy. He attended Northwestern University, but did not graduate. Later the school gave him an honorary degree as Master of Innuendo and Snappy Comeback. 

His first performances were in vaudeville and one-reel movie shorts, but his real success was on the radio. Bergen & Charlie were seen by Noel Coward, at a Hollywood party, and he recommended them for an appearance on Rudy Vallee's program. That appearance was so successful that the next year they were given their own show. Under various sponsors, they were on the air from December 17, 1937 to July 1, 1956.

Bergen’s popularity as a ventriloquist on the radio (when one could see neither the dummies nor his skill) surprised and puzzled many critics, (then and now). However, it was Bergen's skill as an entertainer and vocal performer, and especially his characterization of Charlie, that carried the show over.

Luckily, many of the shows have survived and are available for audiences today to experience the phenomenon first hand. For the radio program, Bergen developed other characters, notably, slow-witted Mortimer Snerd (who bore a strong resemblance to the then-generic cartoon character now known as Alfred E. Neuman) and man-hungry ‘Effie Klinker.’

The star, however, was Charlie, who was always presented as a child albeit in top-hat, cape, and monocle, a debonair, girl-crazy, child-about-town. As a wooden vehicle, Charlie could get away with a double entendre that an adult human being could not, what with the strict broadcast standards of that period in radio.

Originally posted 2018-01-09 07:36:15.

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