Edgar Bergen, America’s Most Famous Ventriloquist, Lived in Decatur, Michigan
Ever been to the Michigan town of Decatur? It’s one of our towns where another popular entertainer lived.
It’s a stretch to think today’s generation would know who Candice Bergen is…..aside from a good many movie roles, she’s most recognized as the star of the CBS television program “Murphy Brown” from 1988-1998.
Well, it’s not her I’m referring to.
It’s even a BIGGER stretch to fathom that anyone from today’s generation would know her father, Edgar Bergen, one of America’s most popular, and probably THE most popular ventriloquist of all time.
He began his career in vaudeville and some films in the early 1930s, but it was after a radio appearance on Rudy Vallee’s program in 1936 when his profession took a must-needed boost. Because of this successful appearance, Bergen and his dummies - Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd, and Effie Klinker - were instantly hired for another radio show, “The Chase & Sanborn Hour” which lasted from 1937 to 1956. During his gig on the show, Charlie McCarthy’s on-air feuds with comedian W.C. Fields made the show even more popular. After the show left the air, Bergen appeared as a guest on television shows and a few minor film roles until his death in 1978 at the age of 75.
Born in Chicago in 1903, the family moved to Decatur, Michigan (in Van Buren County) not long after his birth. Many bios state he was born in Decatur but that’s not the case. There is a restaurant in Decatur – the Hard Times Family Restaurant – that is decorated with numerous mementos of Bergen’s career. The walls are full of memorabilia and collectables – even Carbon-copy dummies of Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. There’s even a menu item named after him – the Edgar Bergen Burger.
However, Bergen did not grow up in Decatur. His family moved again when he was only four years old. But that doesn’t stop Decatur from immortalizing him even further; one of the town streets is named Edgar Bergen Boulevard.
Even though he only spent his first four years in Decatur, Edgar had feelings for the town, as he paid it one last visit in 1976, two years before he passed away in 1978.
One last thing: Edgar Bergen was unfairly criticized for moving his lips when he made his dummies talk, and I'll tell you why it's unfair. In the early stages of his showbiz career, Bergen was an excellent ventriloquist and definitely made his dummies 'talk' without moving his lips.....however, once he appeared on radio, there was no need to keep his lips still. The audience couldn't see, right? So throughout his two-decade radio career he got used to moving his lips. During that time he appeared in films, and his lip movement had become noticeable. And it remained that way until he passed.
Take a look at the gallery below for some pics of Bergen and vintage shots of Decatur as it looked during Bergen's early life.
Edgar Bergen and the Town of Decatur
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