Lost Journal: Putting Words in Someone Else’s Mouth (Reliving the McCarthy Era)

Tim Mollen, Lost Journal: Putting Words in Someone Else’s Mouth (Reliving the McCarthy Era)

Journal entry: May 23, 1977 (age 8)

Adults are always asking me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My standard answer is “Taller.” (A fully formed cerebral cortex also strikes me as a reasonable expectation, but my judgment may be off.) I decided that when people ask me that question, I should try to make them laugh on purpose. I got sick of hearing them laugh at my honest answers. In kindergarten, I wanted to be a lion. In first grade, I wanted to be a superhero. As a second-grader, I now know that I need to be more practical. I’m no dummy, so I’m going to be a ventriloquist.

I’m sure the same people who told me I couldn’t be a lion or a superhero will tell me I can’t be a ventriloquist. I’m equally sure the “bummers that be” said the same thing to Edgar Bergen when he was growing up. Not only did he become the most famous ventriloquist of all time, but he did so by performing his act ON THE RADIO. The same mix of innocence and determination must have allowed the aptly named Julia Child to believe she could grow up to be a cook…ON TELEVISION.

My mom believes in me. My 8th birthday was a few weeks ago, and she got me the coolest present ever. It’s a working replica of Bergen’s famous alter ego, Charlie McCarthy. There’s a looped string that comes out of Charlie’s back, and when you pull it, his mouth opens. He looks exactly like he does in the old movies – with a tuxedo, top hat, and monocle. (I’ve never understood why rich people correct their vision in only one eye. I guess guys like Mr. Peanut and the Penguin spend a lot of time looking at their diamonds through microscopes.) I’ve already lost Charlie’s monocle. All that’s left is a quarter-sized slot under his right eye. It’s kinda creepy – it looks like his eye is supposed to vend something.

Someone laughs every time I set Charlie on my lap. A lot of people say I’m so small, it’s tough to tell if the ventriloquist is Charlie or me. My older brother Jim said it would be even harder to tell if the doll was Bergen’s other character, Mortimer Snerd. I know what Mortimer Snerd looks like, so I didn’t think that was very funny.

Today, I brought Charlie to school for show and tell. After I showed and told the class how ventriloquism works, John Suguitan, who alternates between being my friend and my nemesis, raised his hand to ask why he could see my mouth move every time Charlie talked. Apparently, I have no problem with projection, because our teacher, Sister Katherine, asked me to lower my voice after I glared at John and answered, “Edgar Bergen did this ON THE RADIO!”

At home after school, I left Charlie in the living room and went up to my room. When I came downstairs for dinner, Mom was stifling a laugh. She motioned me to quietly join her in the living room and whispered, “Ruby believes you!” Mom had laid Charlie down on the couch, put a pillow under his head, and pulled a multi-colored afghan up to his shoulders. Our Siamese cat, Ruby, had curled up on Charlie’s chest to take a nap. It was awesome.

Tim Mollen
Latest posts by Tim Mollen (see all)