In the early 19th century two men – the violinist and comedian William Jennings Bryan – were among the first to use the device.
He told audiences that the voice in his audience’s head was being heard by a ventriloquist dummy called a “Moo-Tah”.
Some historians have speculated if the invention was inspired by Bryan: Bryan’s ventriloquism, which he performed on stage during the Civil War, was filmed as an animated film by a Frenchman, and he was given the honorary title “Moo-tah” in his honor.
However, another theorist takes a different view.
A former lecturer of history at the University of Manchester, the late Sir George Waugh, wrote in his book The Invention Of The Ventriloquist that the device was not Bryan’s at all, and the invention actually “stank of the old-time ventriloquists having made up a fake for their real one”.
The Ventriloquists were an inter-racial group of entertainers who staged dummy performances in the early 1850s for large public audiences.
They also became famous for their “Moo-Tahs”, dummy figures made from wood, leather and cloth that looked much like real people. The term “Moo-Tah” referred to an African-descended tribe of slaves in New England who made a living by pretending to eat food from their own kitchen.
The Ventriloquists also played a significant role in popular culture through movies and plays. Their characters featured in songs and played in the theatre to mock slavery.
And what about other musical instruments?
Another of the first ventriloquists was the violinist William T. Vizzini, who had a special “Moo-Tah” made of wood and cloth which he would wear from 1861 to 1888. His Moo-Tah was eventually replaced by a wooden ‘Oriental T-shirt’ that he performed in concert on his violin, making it the first real musical instrument that played music from the ventriloquist’s head.
Vizzini’s wooden replica of the ventriloquist’s “Moo-Tah” also featured in the American play What’s Up, Doc? which premiered on 15 January 1894.
Some historians have suggested that an inventor from the early 19th century would have been unlikely to have developed ventriloquism without taking
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