In one of his classic TV ads for the company that created the apparatus, which starred George Burns, he notes that as a young child he took on the role, so by the age of four he had become the show’s actor. And then he becomes a ventriloquist for a living, using the dummy in many of his own performances.
So what’s so important about being able to speak when you’re young and not in a ventriloquist act? “It’s a good question,” says Dutton. “It depends on the particular circumstance.”
In children’s TV, there’s always one thing that keeps them up at night while they watch: the idea that someone, somewhere, was actually pretending to be them. “People were always trying to trick each other in that way with their TV and radios and computers,” says Dutton.
“You have to use the imagination quite a bit. You have to think, ‘Okay, well maybe somebody can’t speak, but I can,” he says. “Maybe their voice is just too faint and low and not loud enough. I was a ventriloquist and I could fake my own voice as good as anybody else, so I’m pretty good at doing that.”
In adults’ TV, there’s usually a “rule” about when someone is allowed to start performing live and in front of an audience. The rule, as outlined in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s guidelines, states that “No person in society under the age of 15 may be required to wear voice-activation technology,” which is why Dutton is able to say “Ladies and gentlemen: a ventriloquist is performing right now!” With the exception of adults, the rules are strict.
As a ventriloquist, Dutton can only wear a device called a “bimbo doll,” a type of puppet that is designed to look like female body parts and pose with them while the actor, normally Burns, mimics. And the dummy (he has also pretended to make it appear that a female had died in a crash from an aircraft or to have come out of jail) is only “socially acceptable” in so long as the dummy is the only part of the performer that is actually speaking at all time.
He also has to be able to speak in that voice and tone he uses in his act.
“One of the challenges of my ventriloquism is that I have to learn
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