Normally, a person would be highly-offended if someone used the word “dummy” to describe someone in their family.
But around the Buchman household, that word gets thrown around a lot.
Justin Buchman, 11-year-old son of Diana and Kelly Buchman of Madison, collects dummies: Ventriloquist dummies. He has 25 at last count.
Justin, who will be entering seventh grade in August, became fascinated with ventriloquist dummies after watching a children’s movie called “Goosebumps: The Night of the Living Dummy.” In the movie, a dummy comes to life and wreaks havoc on human beings. He loved the movie and decided that he wanted to know more about ventriloquist dummies.
His parents gave him his first dummy when he was 9 years old. “Simon Sez,” made by the Horsman Doll Company in 1973. This was the start of Justin’s collection.
Shortly after receiving Simon, Justin saved his Christmas money and purchased a Danny O’Day semi-professional dummy. The dummy came with a vinyl record that explains how to be a ventriloquist, and Justin has actually listened to the record on a turntable.
Justin has studied the ins and outs of the industry. He said a semi-professional dummy has only a mouth trigger while a professional dummy has a mouth trigger, eye trigger, moving eyebrows and sometimes even more features. One of his dummies, Fred, even has a rubber tube that goes in the back of his mouth that allows him to spit water at the audience.
Justin said after he bought his Danny O’Day, he put them away and forgot about them for a couple of years. Then one day he found a Howdy Doodie at a garage sale.
“That was a big deal,” he said.
Then he was back in business.
Justin stressed that his hobby is not about him becoming a ventriloquist. He is a collector and restorer of dummies. He watches eBay and Goodwill auctions for dummies that need repair or have something special. He also shops at garage sales and flea markets. Justin mows lawns and saves his money while on the lookout for his next dummy.
He watches YouTube videos on restoration and follows a lot of other collectors who have interesting dummies.
Ventriloquism dates back the 1800s, when people considered the art of “throwing your voice” somewhat demonic, but eventually became a source of entertainment in the Vaudeville era (1900-1930). People took great interest in watching ventriloquists perfect their techniques on the stage and it soon became popular. People found it highly entertaining to see a human engaging in back-and-forth conversation with a doll or “dummy.” Big names in the history of ventriloquism are Edgar Bergman and Paul Winchell, who became known as the Father of Modern Ventriloquism.
Justin said his favorite dummy is Jerry Mahoney, Paul Winchell’s dummy. His was made in 1960.
His grandmother gave him an Emmett Kelly dummy for Christmas in 2016. This is also one of his favorites.
At this time he has 25 dummies, some that are new, some that are antiques. Dapper Dan was made in the 1930s. His face is made of composition and his body is stuffed with straw. He bought Dan on Shop Goodwill.
Justin said there are usually problems with the mouth that need to be fixed.
“I clean it, re-stitch rips, but I can’t fix any mold problems,” he said. “Every single one of them is different. They all have different mouths.”
He said after 1968, the heads were attached with a plastic zip tie, as opposed to a wire in the older versions.
When asked what his friends think of his unique hobby, he simply said: “That’s creepy.”
Some of his other dummies are Otis O’Brien, 1973, made by the Unida Company, which was exclusive to Montgomery Ward, two Willie Talk dummies, a Mickey Mouse, 1973, three Charlie McCarthy dummies. His dream dummy to acquire is a 1930 EffanBee Charlie McCarthy because it is so rare.
Another dream that Justin has is to attend an international ventriloquism convention in Kentucky. People who are interested in the hobby come for open-mike sessions, dealers, vendors and food.
Justin said he wants to get his collection to about 40 dummies.
“Then when I get old and die I will leave my collection to my kids and they can pay their bills with it,” he said.
Justin said he has learned a lot with this hobby, but mostly, that it is a lot of work.
So what does Justin want to do when he grows up?
“I want to be a movie director,” he said. “Maybe this hobby will take me somewhere.”