I love Edgar Bergen. It can be Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, or Edgar Bergen and Mortimer Snerd. Or even with Effie Klinker. (Maybe Mortimer Snerd the most.) I just think he was brilliant. The fact that he went to Northwestern University is merely icing on the cake.
What made Edgar Bergen so wonderful to me -- far above all other ventriloquists -- was his writing, the way he developed characterization. It didn't matter whether he was flawed technically. We relate to characters, whatever the venue, and that's what he did like no other ventriloquist. When he performed, it wasn't snappy quips back-and-forth, it was two characters talking. The fact that Bergen was a major radio star doing ventriloquism on the radio speaks volumes. (No pun intended.) That only happens because the audience adored the characters. His technical skill had no meaning. That his lips moved a little bit was pointless. You listened to stories with characters you loved. And him having two unique characters who were almost equally loved -- and even a third who was much enjoyed -- is yet another testament to brilliance his characters.
One of my favorite moments in the original The Muppet Movie is the very brief homage Jim Henson gave him. In just the shortest moment, the camera cuts to Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. They don't really do anything, but Henson simply wanted to give them a close-up. I believe they're judges at a carnival. (I also have a vague memory that there was a dedication to them at the end of the movie, but I can't swear to that.)
Not long after that movie was released, I had an argument with a friend who was tangentially involved with puppetry. Edgar Bergen had passed away, and I'd said that it was such a big loss because it meant the end of Charlie McCarthy. My friend, who was involved with puppets and not ventriloquism,insisted it would be a bigger loss when Jim Henson died. I thought it wasn't even a debatable point. When Bergen died, I said, there was no one who would do Charlie McCarthy anymore, but there could be people behind the scenes able to do Kermit and all the other Henson characters. She thought it was a sort of valid point, but still insisted it just wouldn't be the same with the other Muppet. I didn't keep debating the point, because it seemed so blatantly obvious to me. But clearly, time has shown me very right. But then, I wish they both were still around.
This isn't Edgar Bergen in action. I'll try to remember to get to that another time. But this is him alone, just Edgar Bergen and -- well, no, that's not true. Even appearing as the charming Mystery Guest on What's My Line?, there he is with Charlie.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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