Edgar John Bergen (February 16, 1903 September 30, 1978) was an American entertainer, and easily the most famous ventriloquist of the 20th century.
Self-taught from the age of 11, Bergen became a professional performer as a teenager, complete with commissioning a professional woodcarver to create his most famous character, Charlie McCarthy. He went on to become a star on Vaudeville and film shorts and with a recommendation from Noël Coward, got a gig at the classy restaurant, The Rainbow Room. Once there, Bergen attracted the attention of radio producers who got him an appearance on Rudy Vallée's radio show.
That appearance turned out so well that Bergen soon became the headline act on The Chase & Sanborn Hour, which proved a top-rated show from 1937 to 1956. The strange idea that a ventriloquist was performing on radio was easily countered with Bergen's flair for comedic characters who could get away with risque gags that got others performers banned at that time. In fact, the show was such a powerhouse that Orson Welles' classic competing show, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, had to be sustained at network expense without a sponsor for months until the notorious "The War of the Worlds" radio play caused its infamous mass panic.
After the radio show ended, Edgar Bergen never had a sustained series again, but he still performed regularly in various guest spots. He even played Grandpa Walton in the Pilot Movie for The Waltons. Along the way, Bergen proved an inspiration for similar performers such as the great puppeteer Jim Henson. When the The Muppets sang "Consider Yourself" on The Muppet Show for Bergen and Charlie, the puppeteers meant every word of it.
Sadly, Bergen's appearances on Henson's productions proved to be his final major media appearances, with his very last being a cameo in The Muppet Movie.
He is also known as the father of actress Candice Bergen.
- Country Mouse: Mortimer Snerd, with plain clothes and buck teeth, whose simple-mindedness contrasted with Charlie McCarthy's tuxedo and lively wit.
- Deadpan Snarker: Charlie McCarthy
- Playing Against Type: Bergen had straight dramatic roles in such films as I Remember Mama and the TV movie The Homecoming (the latter the pilot movie for The Waltons).
- Self-Deprecation: Bergen knew very well that he was not the best ventriloquist around and his Charlie McCarthy often jabbed that he could see Edgar's lips moving.
- Charlie McCarthy can be seen in a lot of classic 1930s and 1940s animated cartoons.
- The voice and appearance of Looney Tunes character Beaky Buzzard (and, to a lesser extent, Cecil Turtle) was based on Mortimer Snerd.
- The Simpsons had a one-shot comedy team of Arthur Crandall and Gabbo, with Gabbo the dummy being even snarkier and meaner than Charlie McCarthy, even calling the kids "S.O.B."s, before Bart switched the camera back on airing his foul language which resulted in the cancellation of Arthur and Gabbo.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: W.C. Fields served as one to Charlie in the radio show, which led to the film You Can't Cheat an Honest Man.
- Straight Man and Wise Guy: Edgar and Charlie, respectively.
- WTH, Casting Agency?: A radio show... headlined by a ventriloquist? Nonetheless, it was a smash hit.
- What Could Have Been: Rankin/Bass Productions approached Bergen in the 1960s about creating a weekly Stop Motion animated series starring him and his puppets, and even produced an unaired pilot episode, but health problems ultimately prevented Bergen from committing.