National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Born Chicago, Illinois
After more than a decade on the vaudeville circuit, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wisecracking wooden cohort Charlie McCarthy rocketed to national fame in 1936 with their radio debut on the Rudy Vallee Show. The monocled dummy and his human straight man proved so popular with the listening audience that when NBC gave the pair their own program in 1937, it quickly became one of radio’s top-rated shows. One reviewer credited the success of the act to Bergen’s ability to endow an "inanimate bit of timber" with "as distinct and as assertive an individuality" as any entertainer in show business. Although other characters such as country bumpkin Mortimer Snerd were later added to the act, the irrepressible Charlie McCarthy remained its star. When Bergen announced his intention to one day donate his rambunctious alter ego to the Smithsonian, Charlie fired back, "Well, I won’t be the only dummy in Washington."