Ventriloquist Wences Dies At 103

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  Ventriloquist Wences Dies at 103

By Polly Anderson
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, April 20, 1999;2:50 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Senor Wences, the master ventriloquist who delighted ``Ed Sullivan Show'' audiences with his puppet-head-in-a-box, Pedro, and his falsetto-voiced hand-puppet, Johnny, died Tuesday at 103.

The Spanish-born Wences, whose real name was Wenceslao Moreno, died at his home in New York City.

During the Golden Age of television, Wences bickered and bantered with his puppets while he drank, smoked and juggled.

He conversed with Pedro, a head in a box (``S'OK"'' ``S'AWRIGHT). And he was defeated by Johnny, who boasted, ``Deefeecult for you; easy for me.''

Wences created Johnny by scrunching up his fist, drawing a mouth where thumb and index finger met, and draping a blond wig over the top.

His character Pedro was a gravelly voiced head in a box, born out of necessity when Wences' ventriloquist's dummy was accidentally damaged and only the head was spared.

Pedro wore glasses and a Dali-like mustache and beard. His voice became clearer as the door to his box opened, and muffled as it closed. Audiences forgot the sound was really coming from outside the box.

Wences would talk to his puppets with his face right in theirs, as if daring the audience to watch his lips, which, of course, never moved.

He would stuff a hankie in Johnny's mouth and have the puppet speak with a muffled voice while he himself smoked a cigarette. Then he would give Johnny a drag, and the puppet -- that is, Wences' hand -- would somehow emit perfect smoke rings.

``Most of us were in awe of Wences,'' ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson once said. ``He could get laughs just by saying, `S'AWRIGHT!' And I still don't know how he got those smoke rings out of Johnny.''

There were no jokes, just what one writer has described as ``bizarre, farcical, Spanish-accented patter.''

In between his many Sullivan show appearances, he entertained four presidents, toured with Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, did a Broadway show with Danny Kaye, and played every casino in Vegas.

He had a precise, economical act: 19 minutes with a one-minute encore. He would ask the promoter for only a card table and a glass of water.

He continued touring into his early 90s.

Wences was born in Penarada, Spain, and discovered his gift for mimicry amusing his classmates in grade school.

In 1934, when he came to the United States, Wences was conventional -- ``another ventriloquist with a dummy,'' as he put it. But two years later, en route to Chicago, his act was transformed when his dummy, Pedro, was crushed in a baggage car accident. Wences bought a box, stuck the head inside, and -- on stage that day -- inquired if he was OK.

Pedro replied, in a voice as gravelly as Johnny's was squeaky: ``S'AWRIGHT!''

A memorial service and burial will be held in Spain this weekend.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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