Golden Age TV ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson legend has died in Florida

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When Naples ventriloquist Brenda Stelzer was around 9, she asked for a mannequin – or puppet – for Christmas.

Santa gifted him one, along with an album on how to become a ventriloquist, by the legendary Jimmy nelson.

Nelson had been one of the country’s most famous ventriloquists since the first golden age of television, and her teaching record enabled Stelzer to become a professional ventriloquist herself.

Nelson, who moved to Cape Coral four decades ago and has since resided in southwest Florida, died Tuesday at the age of 90.

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Stelzer, who has known Nelson personally for over 20 years, said she was saddened by the ventriloquist’s death not only because “he was great, super nice” and an “easy going nice” but also because that his death represents the end of an era for the art of ventriloquism.

Nelson belonged to an elite group of ventriloquists who entertained the nation on television in the 1950s and 1960s. His two television cronies, a model named Danny O’Day and a model dog named Farfel, belonged to the American cultural iconology of the mid-20th century.

JImmy Nelson with Danny O'Day and Farfel the dog.

Other famous ventriloquists of this era, including artists like Paul Winchell, Shari Lewis, and Edgar Bergen, all predated Nelson in death. Nelson joined these three and several others as members of the First Class of Inductees into the Ventriloquist Hall of Fame last year.

A newspaper article announcing that ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson was moving to Cape Coral in 1968.

“It’s incredibly sad because a chapter of a long life has come to an end,” Stelzer said. “I think he’s the last of the greats. He was the oldest ventriloquist.

This nickname – dean of American ventriloquists – was in fact awarded to him in 2011 by his peers in the art of voice casting. The ventriloquists meet each year for a summer convention, and Nelson continued to participate in the gatherings in his later years.

“He was so good at attending conventions,” Stelzer said. “It says a lot about his character. He didn’t have to go, but he did. He wanted to give back. He wanted to do the right thing. “

Nelson, who was born in Chicago, was a regular performer on two of the most popular mid-century television programs, “The Ed Sullivan Show” and Texaco Star Theater (known as the “Milton Berle Show”).

He has also appeared in many other television variety shows and performed live in some of the most legendary venues of the time.

Still, he was perhaps best known for doing TV commercials for the chocolate drink Nestles Quik. His usual publicity schtick, with Danny O’Day singing, “Nestles does the best …” and Farfel eventually humming, “chocolate”, became part of the vernacular of this era.

JImmy Nelson with Brenda Stelzer and his wife, Betty, at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in 2018.

Kids sang it at school and moms and dads sang it at home and at work.

He continued his commercial work in Southwest Florida, appearing on local television as a ventriloquist on behalf of the First Federal Savings and Loan of Fort Myers.

Nelson also entertained local school children. His educational files, considered the only ones of his time, inspired not only Stelzer, but many other young aspiring ventriloquists.

She last saw Nelson in 2018 during, unsurprisingly, a performance by young ventriloquist, Darci Lynne Farmer, at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers.

“He was always with his wife, Betty,” Stelzer recalls. “They were both very nice and down to earth people.”

The two met in the early 1950s when she was incorporated into Nelson’s stage performances. They were married for 63 years.

Five years ago, Nelson announced his retirement after playing for seven decades.

“Danny and Farfel protest,” he wrote at the time, “but I just close the lid of the suitcase and listen to their ‘Let me out of here’.”

Nelson is survived by his wife and six children.

Visitations will be held at Fuller-Metz Funeral Home in Cape Coral, 3740 Del Prado Blvd. South, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday.

The funeral will be at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday at St. Andrews Catholic Church, 2628 Del Prado Boulevard. S., Cape Coral.

Jimmy Nelson with his wife Betty, left, and Naples ventriloquist Brenda Stelzer.


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