Popsy – A Simply Made But Very Lifelike Dummy for
the Amateur Ventriloquist
intriguing ventriloquist’s dummy you can construct
from inexpensive materials without any special skill
or shop equipment. His name comes from Popular
Science Monthly, for which he was specially
designed. He wags his jaw realistically and, if you
want to take a little extra trouble, he can be made
to wink, wiggle an ear, smoke, spit, or even blush!
Teaching him to
talk takes a little practice, of course, but it’s not nearly
so hard as commonly believed, and once you learn the trick,
you will be able to entertain and astonish your friends.
Modeling clay, a plaster mold, and paper pulp or papier-mache
are the materials used in making the head. Sculpturing the
head in modeling clay may seem to require considerable skill,
but this is mostly an illusion, as you will quickly learn at
the first trial. The inexpensive nondrying clay sold for the
use of children is quite satisfactory. To reduce the amount of
clay needed, a glass globe from an old lighting fixture, or
any other smooth object slightly smaller than the head, may be
used. Warm the clay, spread it out into a sheet about 1/2 in.
thick, and press it with the fingers over one half of the
globe so that the face part of the head may be shaped first.
If small pieces of waxed paper are placed underneath the clay
so that they overlap, it will be easier to separate the clay
from the globe later on.
When dry, the
halves of the paper head are taken from the plaster mold, and
the joining edges smoothed with sandpaper. The face is shaped
from children's modeling clay over a light globe. The mold is
cast around the head in two parts either by applying plaster
to the model as shown or using thin plaster in a molding box.
Above one eye
has already been covered with
preparatory to spraying on flesh-color enamel.
Take a small lump
of clay between your hands and with a back-and-forth movement
of the palms form it into a long roll. Strips of this can be
pressed in place on the face to the shape of the mouth and
eyebrows. Roll another chunk between your hands to form small
balls, which will serve as the foundation for cheeks and nose.
Cut a small ball of clay in half with a knife and attach each
half in place for protruding eyes.
The clay should by
now have some semblance of a face, but it will require the
addition of other small pieces and considerable smoothing up.
Go over each of the crude features you have made with a finger
or thumb, imparting a sliding pressure so that the parts will
be nicely blended into the background clay. It will be
necessary to place extra bits of clay here and there, and to
add a cardboard sleeve to the mouth of the globe in order to
shape the neck. If you intend setting movable eyes into the
head later, it is advisable to shape only the bare eye
sockets, because the eye holes can be cut in the face of the
paper head when it is made.
If you do not wish
to use artificial (crape) hair in finishing the head later,
you can secure a hair effect by passing the teeth of a fine
comb over the clay to leave shallow furrows.
The back part of
the head is quickly made in a similar manner. If you wish,
this can be done after you have finished with the globe in
making the face, because the mold is cast in two parts the
front and the back of the head. Be sure that the clay is of
the same thickness in both halves so that the paper halves of
the head can be joined up later.
Lightly oil or
grease the clay before making the plaster
method is to mix up a batch of fairly thick plaster
of Paris and dab it over the clay, gradually
building it up into a thick mold. Be sure that the
plaster reaches every part of the surface and that
it contains no air pockets. A method that requires
more plaster is to use a thin mix, pour it into a
box of suitable size, and press the clay face part
way into it. Again, avoid air pockets.
the plaster to set and dry for several hours before
attempting to remove the model from the half mold.
If any bits of clay should stick to the mold when
the model is lifted out, remove them carefully.
It may be
necessary to wait a day or two until the mold is perfectly
dry, when the inside should be coated with petroleum jelly.
is satisfactory for molding the head. Soak it for a few
minutes in a wallpaper-paste solution, then tear off small,
irregularly shaped pieces and press them in place inside the
plaster mold. Allow each to overlap slightly, and be sure that
all indentations are reached. The paper should be built up
into a thickness of about 3/16 in., and it is most
satisfactory to build up a thin layer and allow it to dry
before adding succeeding layers.
A razor blade is
used to sever the sides and bottom of the movable chin, and a
strip of thin, flexible chamois is cemented underneath to
conceal the aperture.
paper form must be absolutely dry before it is
lifted out, and the halves (face and back of head)
can then be trimmed with scissors so as to fit
completed head - attaching crape hair. The
body is made of a size to suit the head. Note how
controls are grasped. Eye and ear movements, and
two varieties of eyelids.
time you can introduce the various mechanisms, if
you wish to use more than the mouth movement. It is
much simpler to do so now than to insert them
through the neck opening later. Various suggestions
are given in the accompanying drawings.
Re-enforce the joint with more pieces of newspaper
that have been soaked in paste. The outside must
then be thoroughly gone over with fine sandpaper to
give it a perfectly smooth finish.
the illustrations shows how the chin is separated
from the head with a razor blade to provide the
mouth movement. A block of wood, one end rounded, is
glued inside the chin, and the other end hinged as
shown in a drawing. Cement a piece of thin chamois
over the opening underneath the chin; then enamel
the entire head a flesh color.
for the light." With the device shown in the diagram
at the right above, the dummy can draw in and puff
out smoke with surprising realism Three effects.
For blushing, celluloid inserts are set in the
cheeks. The nose can be made to redden, too.
Artificial hair is attached with cement, or hair may
be simulated with dark enamel.
is only a wood frame covered with cloth and padded
to represent the trunk.
body frame is fitted either an adult’s suit that has
been altered or a child’s outfit of the correct
size. The arms and legs are merely cloth sleeves
that have been well padded and sewn across to
making up the face, photo oil colors may be used on
the lips and cheeks and to simulate the eyebrows and
eyelashes, unless the latter are made of actual
become a ventriloquist is the next problem. The
beginner is often told that the word means “to speak
from the belly.” This is as much a fallacy as the
favored expression that a ventriloquist “throws his
essence of the work, expressed simply, consists
first in the cultivation of a pleasant, full-toned
speaking voice of your own and the enunciation of
each word clearly with a full movement of your lips.
This is the voice in which you address the figure.
Second, you will need to develop a new voice, as
unlike your natural voice as possible, and coming
from as deeply in your throat as possible. In other
words, draw the sounds from your throat instead of
forming them in the mouth. This is not difficult to
learn. Third, in using the latter voice, keep your
lips slightly parted but absolutely immovable. Some
professionals utilize for this purpose a device
known as the “Abbott gimmick,” a recently developed
mechanical aid in keeping the teeth parted. Do not
mistake this for the so-called “double throat” or
always well-dressed Popsy wears on informal
occasions. A child's clothing may be adapted for
this Child size shoes re-enforced with wood inserts
nailed in place, and wood hands, which may be
preferred to stuffed gloves. Left, makeup can be
applied with photo oil colors
plan is to practice before a mirror with the figure
on one knee and with finger or thumb in the ring
that controls its mouth movement. The head can be
turned by turning the control stick. Speak to the
figure in your natural voice, using full lip
movement. When it is time for the figure to reply,
talk in your “new” voice without movement of the
lips, and move the figure’s mouth to synchronize
with the sounds. Avoid words containing letters such
as b, m, and p, which must be slurred in order to
avoid moving the lips. Above all, look at the figure
as if you actually were listening to it speak.
Kenneth Murray - Jun 1938 - Poplar Mechanix