Why wasn’t anyone familiar with his name before? The answer is simple.
The first well known ventriloquist was Dr. Benjamin “Doc” Wills, who lived in 1853 in Kansas City, Missouri. At only 21 (at the time of writing), he was the world’s youngest ventriloquist. He was a man of science and a woman of faith. He was also one of its most famous.
Like Dr. George Washington, who famously used a “heart beat, the breath goes out, but the heart continues” sign to communicate, Wills’ sign was intended to bring laughter. His sign didn’t simply communicate that people were laughing, but that he was amused by them.
Wills took his hobby to new realms of humor when he wrote a book called Laughing. It would be his last until the early 1900s.
As his signature “laugh” sound progressed and became a well known trademark, he was frequently described by other ventriloquists as a ventriloquist. The term is also used today to describe people who mimic the form of ventriloquism for fun.
Even though Wills was popular, he didn’t really get much publicity. The American Medical Association had no problem condemning ventriloquists as “laughing doctors,” and other doctors considered the practice unprofitable. When the practice was outlawed in the early 1900s, there were no long-lasting, effective ventriloquist substitutes in the form of public schools, churches, public speaking, or any other venues.
Yet, there would be an exception to this rule: The ventriloquist who lived in Kansas City would come to be recognized as one of America’s first known ventriloquists due to his ability and persistence in performing at times, what his many fans refer to as, “hilariously bad.”
This would come as a shock to one who knew Wills by reputation. His first name is never listed in any record of the local papers. The name “Doc” was first used in his birth certificate when his mother married George Wills on Aug. 9, 1855. Wills was born in 1825 and died on June 4, 1884.
Wills’ first ventriloquist act occurred at his 1859 funeral service. The Rev. W.H. Davis (who had been the pastor at the church for 17 years) led the coffin past Wills and into the
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