The longest running ventriloquism organization was the North American Association of Ventriloquists.
The NAAV was originally founded around 1936 by Fred Maher. Fred searched for a way to build the ventriloquism community.
He taught ventriloquists through his mail order course, and brought them into the organization. It also allowed him to stay in touch with his clients, while promoting his figures and products.
Clinton & Adelia Detweiler purchased Maher Studios from Fred’s widow in 1969. Clinton made the NAAV more visible and turned it into more of an organization, although he still promoted Maher Studios products.
Newsy Vents was the official periodical of the NAAV. Clinton closed the NAAV in 2004 due to lack of support from the vent community.
In an effort to create a more complete profile of ventriloquist organizations, I reached out to John Arvites. John was a friend of W.S. Berger, founder of the Vent Haven Museum and the head of the now defunct Ventriloquists’ Guild.
I started with the above because the N.A.A.V. was not mentioned in the information John sent me. The following information was pulled and re-written from John’s publication.
According to the Ventriloquists’ Guild Journal, Volume 3, No. 2-3 (1990):
The ventriloquism community as we know it today was founded in 1939.
Ventriloquism was becoming a popular art form.
Bob Neller was the first ventriloquist to appear on the new medium of television. Edgar Bergen appeared on the big screen in the movie: You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man. Max Terhune, the cowboy ventriloquist was appearing in B Westerns.
Plus, Bergen was the king of radio. It was the first time that a ventriloquist was one of the most popular entertainers in America.
The public’s interest in ventriloquism was high.
This brought forth young and old ventriloquists hoping to become the next Bergen. It was time for ventriloquists to try and unite like magicians had years earlier.
In the spring of 1939, ventriloquial figure maker Frank Marshall tried to organize a meeting of ventriloquists. His hope was to start a club. This meeting was to take place at the Society of American Magicians convention in New York. Only 2 – 3 people showed up, and Frank abandoned the idea.
The first official meeting of ventriloquists happened on June 16, 1939. Grace Larsen, known as Madame Pinxy was attending the International Brotherhood of Magicians convention in Battle Creek, MI.
Together with ventriloquists Ralph DeShong and Claude Burke, they decided to try and organize a vent “jam session.”
Magician Jay Marshall, who also did some ventriloquism helped spread the word. That gathering drew 57 people.
As part of the session, they discussed creating a fraternal organization of ventriloquists. Fred Maher (of Maher Studios) spoke in favor of the proposal. Ventriloquist John Ellwood pitched the vent magazine “Double Talk” which had been started by Revello Pettee two years earlier.
It was then that the group created an organizational committee for the organization and “Double Talk” became the official magazine of the group.
29 members signed up that day.
At the 1940 I.B.M. convention, the ventriloquists held their first business meeting. They officially adopted the name: The International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists. William Garrison was elected the I.B.V.’s first president.
Revello Pettee soon folded his magazine and gave his mailing list to the new I.B.V.
In June of 1941, the I.B.V. elected a full slate of officers. Judge Frank W. Carter became President, W.S. Berger of Vent haven fame became V.P., Grace Larsen became Secretary and John Ellwood was named Treasurer.
It was that year that the Grapevine News was named the official magazine of the I.B.V. The organization had 62 members that year.
By October of 1942, the number of members had grown to 138 and by 1943, the I.B.V. had over 200 ventriloquists in their ranks.
It wasn’t until 1948 that W.S. Berger was elected President of the I.B.V. He held that position until the club folded in 1960.
In 1950, the Grapevine News changed its name to The Oracle. The magazine usually consisted of between 12 to 28 pages.
At the height of the I.B.V. in the mid-1950’s, the organization boasted over 1,400 members. Most of the membership was in contact only through the magazine. I.B.V. meetings were still connected to the I.B.M. convention and drew between 20 – 60 people. The club officially closed in1960.
Gregory & Walter Berlin started the International Ventriloquists’ Association. W.S. Berger provided them with a mailing list. The brothers published the Vent-O-Gram, a mimeographed magazine, from 1963 – 1967. In 1968 – 1969, the Vent-O-Gram was printed, but the Berlins ceased publishing at the end of 1969.
Jim Stukel took over the Vent-O-Gram and continued mimeographed editions for a few more years.
In 1976, Mark Wade founded the Society of American Ventriloquists. Mark published The New Oracle as the organization’s official magazine. The organization existed for ten years before Mark had to close the doors.
In 1986, the same year the S.A.V. closed, John Arvites started The Ventriloquists’ Guild. The official magazine was The Ventriloquists’ Guild Journal.
Without the mailing lists associated with earlier organizations or Vent Haven, the Ventriloquists’ Guild had a tough start. It was thanks to Jay Marshall and Magic, Inc. that the Guild was able to publish their magazine.
Birth of the I.V.S.
At the end of 2013, Mark Wade, Ken Groves and Tom Crowl re-opened Maher Ventriloquist Studios. The three decided to relaunch the old North American Association of Ventriloquists. Deciding to make it an international organization, the N.A.A.V. was renamed: the International Ventriloquist Society.
In November of that year, the International Ventriloquist Society started accepting members. The first Spotlight newsletter was published online December 15, 2013.
In 2016, Mark & Ken decided to step down from Maher Studios. Tom took over the reigns of Maher and the I.V.S.
The I.V.S. Spotlight continues to grow and additional perks continue to be added for the members.
Let Us Know:
- Tell us about what ventriloquist organizations you have been a part of.
- What does a vent organization mean to you?
- How can we continue to promote and serve the ventriloquism community?
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