Ventriloquist Señor Wences was born Wencesleo Moreno on this day in 1896 near Salamanca, Spain.
Best known for his almost 30 appearances on TV's Ed Sullivan Show during the 1950s and 60s, Señor Wences was making American audiences laugh on the vaudeville stage since 1934, bickering with "Johnny," a "puppet" with a high-pitched Spanish accent who came to life when Wences put lipstick on his own thumb and forefinger and drew eyes on the top of his hand. "Deefeecult for you, easy for me," Johnny would boast as the two would try to get through a song. Sometimes Wences would give Johnny (i.e. his own hand) a drag on a cigarette, and Johnny would emit perfect smoke rings. Alternatively, Wences might parry with another imaginary friend, Pedro (a head in a box) of whom he would inquire, "S'okay?"; "s'alright" would be the standard reply.
Wences did not do jokes or riddles like Edgar Bergen, but instead moved quickly from character to character, smoking and drinking and juggling as his puppets traded meandering, unmappable patter with him, made all the more ludicrous by Wences' deadpan, aristocratic bearing. The simplicity of the act concealed Wences' discipline and judgment as an entertainer: when Sullivan tried to make an innocent suggestion about Wences' act, Wences refused to appear on Sullivan's show for 3 years. "What will Wences do without Sullivan?" a columnist asked Wences' wife Natalie. "What will Sullivan do without Wences?!" she replied.
After Sullivan went off the air, Wences moved to Paris and headlined at the Crazy Horse Saloon, and at the age of 90 he went on the road with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller in Sugar Babies. He retired to an apartment in Manhattan, living to the age of 103.
Categories: Pop-Culture, TV