Harold Crocker Receives National Recognition for Ventriloquism
By: Sam Houghton , August 19, 2013
There is the story of performing at the Kennedy Compound in front of President John F. Kennedy and his family for Caroline Kennedy’s 10th birthday, or tying for first on Ted Mack’s nationally televised “Original Amateur Hour” show in 1960, but winning the Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contributions to the art of ventriloquism at the 2013 International Ventriloquist Convention on July 18 ranks right near the top of life achievements for Harold Crocker, a Falmouth native.
“It’s one of the greatest achievements of my life to be honored by my peers from all over the world,” Crocker said. “I was shocked. I had no indication that it was going to happen. When they called my name and I had to go down in front, all these ventriloquists were standing up and giving me a standing ovation. Tears were streaming down my face.”
Crocker has been a ventriloquist for 62 years, starting his act when he was 14 years old and continuing it to this day.
The award was given to him at the 37th annual convention held in Cincinnati, Ohio, and giving him a standing ovation were 630 other ventriloquists from around the world, including Jeff Dunham, known for his ventriloquist act on the Comedy Central television channel, Terry Fator, winner of nationally televised “America’s Got Talent” in 2007, and Jimmy Nelson, whom Crocker cites as his inspiration for taking up ventriloquism and who is known for his skit in a 1950s Nestle chocolate commercial.
The award, said Crocker, ranks him as a dean of ventriloquists worldwide.
Recognized by Peers
Being recognized for the award by his peers and friends is equally impressive to him. Nelson, after the award ceremony, told Crocker that he really did deserve the award. To be recognized by someone Crocker has much respect for, “that’s a great honor,” he said.
At 14, Crocker started his act after watching ventriloquists like Paul Winchell and Mr. Nelson on television. His first talent show was in Onset and he would do shows at the Hall School in Falmouth. Eventually he began performing more and more local shows at Rotary, Kiwanis and Elks clubs, and retirement centers, which soon turned into televised acts with slots on WBZ in Boston, or WNBC and WCBS in New York. These would eventually lead to him to the Ted Mack show, which, he said, was the start of his career.
His act for Ted Mack was the best show he has done, he said. “When I went out on that stage in New York, it was live. None of that film stuff. There was an orchestra in the pit and they played ‘[There’s] No Business Like Show Business,’ ” Mr. Crocker recalls with a smile. His skit for the show involved two figures—he stressed that they are called figures and not dummies—Butch and Eddy. To the excitement of the crowd, he had both Butch and Eddy singing, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hand,” and then, for his trademark, which no other ventriloquist does in the world, said Crocker, he had them both whistling the tune. His act is immortalized on YouTube.
His career took off after tying for first place in the amateur talent show and Crocker began freelancing all over new England, doing shows for politicians and on television.
“When I perform, Butch comes alive for me,” he said. The two interact and Butch is known to be a wisecracker.
Being a full-time ventriloquist, however, was not for Crocker. Full time would require weekly touring, and “the road was not my bag,” he said. “It’s a certain lifestyle and I didn’t want to do that.”
In 1964, he married and would eventually have three daughters. He worked in Falmouth for a natural gas company and for the special police force, but he continued honing his art and his hobby. “I had the talent, which was great,” he said. “I never had any lessons, and no one ever showed me how to do it.”
Bringing Joy to his Audience
The reason for his love of ventriloquism: bringing a smile to his audience. “Ventriloquism,” he said, “is comedy. Ventriloquism is making people happy.” As his act became his hobby, he started doing more and more charity events such as the March of Dimes in Hyannis and other benefits.
Another special moment that happened four or five years ago reminded him of the importance of bringing his skill to others. He visited a children’s hospital in Cincinnati, the Shriner Hospital where he visited a young boy in the burn unit. He said that the boy was in a clear enclosure and could see only by looking into a mirror suspended over his head. The nurse warned Crocker to be cautious with his figure, Butch, so as not to scare the boy. “He looked up into that mirror, and the nurse said to me that he’s never smiled. He looked up into that mirror, and you know what? He smiled.” Crocker said that was one of the greatest achievements of his life.
Crocker will be married to his wife, Louise Crocker, for 50 years in April next year. He is retired and spending time in his home in Falmouth and a lake house in New Hampshire. “Why don’t I make the big money with ventriloquism?” he jokes. “I’m comfortable with my lifestyle here and I love making people happy.”