Frederick Louis Maher was born in 1896 to parents William & Emily Maher.
For such an important member of the ventriloquist community, there is very little information on the life of Fred Maher.
We do know that Fred was a professional ventriloquist. His neice told us that she traveled across the country with him one summer as he performed at fairs. He also did radio appearances, as did many ventriloquists of that period.
Fred’s partner was his figure Skinny Dugan. There were several figures that occupied this role over the years. The first, “Jimmy” Dugan, was a self-made project by Fred. He made the figure from Plastic Wood.
In 1934, to supplement his income, Fred and his wife Madeleine opened Maher Ventriloquist Studios at 1700-J Casgrain, Detroit, Michigan. Their flagship product was The Maher Course of Ventriloquism. It was destined to become the gold standard of ventriloquism courses for many decades to come.
The course was advertised using small ads and classified advertisements in Boys Life and Popular Mechanics magazines. When someone bought the course, Fred would continue the business relationship by offering ventriloquist figures. These figures were made by him and Madeline using Plastic Wood and molds.
As his career and business improved, Fred decided to purchase a professional figure to play the part of Skinny.
The second Skinny was a McElroy figure, purchased in 1940. Glenn and George McElroy were master figure makers. The brothers made less than fifty figures from 1931 to 1941. Still, ventriloquists regard their figures as some of the finest ever created.
The McElroy Skinny was a mechanical marvel. It featured ten different facial and head movements. He could wiggle his ears and nose, spit, cry, wink, stick out his tongue, roll and cross his eyes, flip his hair up and down and have his nose glow bright red.
A complicated series of cables and levers resembling typewriter keys controlled these movements. It took Fred a while to master the figure, but he was able to make Skinny appear spontaneous and lifelike.
Fred featured the McElroy figure in advertising for Maher School of Ventriloquism starting in 1951. It remained the “face” of Maher Studios until it was phased out in 1970.
In 1952, Maher became ill while entertaining a group of Masons in Findlay, Ohio. He died three days later, at the age of 55.
Survived by his wife Madeleine, she continued to run Maher Studios and sell the ventriloquism course.
Skinny Dugan was sold to ventriloquist Ted Lloyd with the stipulation the figure’s name not be changed.
Madeleine made the first “Lester” figure for a young Willie Tyler. Willie went on to nightclubs and television and still recalls the visit to her home. Eventually. Madeleine sold Maher Studios to Clinton and Adelia Detweiler, who kept Fred’s legacy alive and well until the studio closed in 2006.
Following Clinton’s passing, the Detweiler family transferred Maher Studios to Mark Wade. Mark brought Ken Groves and Tom Crowl in as partners. Three years later, both Mark and Ken stepped down and Tom assumed control of the business.
- Skinny Dugan is now owned by ventriloquist Jeff Dunham
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