Have you ever been to the city of Decatur, Michigan? This is one of our towns where another popular artist lived.
It’s a stretch to think that today’s generation would know who Candice Bergen is…..aside from a number of movie roles, she’s most recognized as the star of CBS’s “Murphy Brown” TV show. 1988-1998.
Well, I’m not referring to her.
It’s even harder to imagine that anyone of the current generation would know their father, Edgar Bergen, one of America’s most popular ventriloquists and probably THE most popular ventriloquist of all time.
He started his career in vaudeville and a few films in the early 1930s, but it was after a radio appearance on Rudy Vallée’s show in 1936 that his profession gained much needed momentum. Because of this successful appearance, Bergen and his models – Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker – were immediately hired for another radio show, “The Chase & Sanborn Hour” which ran from 1937 to 1956. During his gig on the show, Charlie McCarthy’s On-Air Feuds with comedian WC Fields made the show even more popular. After the show’s departure, Bergen appeared as a guest on television shows and some 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) shortly after his birth. Many bios say he was born in Decatur, but that’s not the case. There is one restaurant in Decatur – the Hard Times Family Restaurant – which is decorated with many memorabilia from Bergen’s career. The walls are full of memorabilia and collectibles – even carbon copy mannequins 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 it even more; one of the streets in the city is called Edgar Bergen Boulevard.
Although he only spent his first four years in Decatur, Edgar had feelings for the city, as he paid it a final visit in 1976, two years before he died in 1978.
One last thing: Edgar Bergen was unfairly criticized for moving his lips when making his models talk, and I’ll tell you why that’s unfair. Early in his showbiz career, Bergen was an excellent ventriloquist and definitely made his models “talk” without moving his lips…..however, once he appeared on the radio he was no longer needed to keep his lips still. The audience couldn’t see, could they? So, throughout his two-decade radio career, he got used to moving his lips. During this time he appeared in films and his lip movement had become noticeable. And it stayed that way until he passed away.
Take a look at the gallery below for some photos of Bergen and vintage shots of Decatur as it looked in Bergen’s early life.
Edgar Bergen and the City of Decatur
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