3.8 linear ft.
The John W. Cooper Collection documents Cooper's long career as a ventriloquist. Included are letters received from ventriloquists, magicians and other entertainers discussing their experiences, and from various organizations where Cooper performed, arranging and thanking him for his performances, including USO Camp shows during World War II (1906-1966). Letters from William S. Berger, president of the Vent Haven Museum in Kentucky, discuss the museum, and there is correspondence with entertainment organizations to which he belonged. There are also a few scripts of dialogue for Cooper and his figure, Sam, and writings by Cooper regarding teaching the art of ventriloquism to students. Promotional literature and programs for Cooper's performances as well as other ventriloquists including William S. Berger and other performers, are in the collection. Scrapbooks about his career include programs, letters, promotional material, and news clippings (1897-1947).
Cooper's daughter, Joan Maynard, promoted his legacy by arranging for exhibits about her father at the Brooklyn Historical Society and by lecturing about him. Files discuss the arrangements, genealogical information, and Maynard's input regarding biographical information to be published. Maynard also maintained an active correspondence with other ventriloquists, including Shari Lewis and Chilly Willie Reid (1982-2001). Journals about ventriloquism, and issues of Dialogue, The Oracle, and The New Oracle are represented in the collection. The broad range of influence in Cooper's act is represented through books and other printed material he maintained on magic, music, shadowgraphy, vaudeville and ventriloquism (1887-ca. 1944).
John Walcott Cooper (1873-1966) was a Brooklyn born ventriloquist. From 1886 until about 1890 he was a singer with The Southern Jubilee Singers. Cooper debuted as a ventriloquist in the 1895-1896 theatrical season, and gave his first professional show in 1897. He began touring the minstrel circuit with Richards and Pringles Georgia Minstrels as early as 1901. In addition to ventriloquism, with his first wife, Etta Freeman, a pianist, he told stories in dialect, did fancy paper tearing, freehand drawing, and "mind reading."..
From the very outset, Cooper wrote his own material and continued to do so throughout his sixty years as a performer, and also designed his scenery. In his earliest skit, "Fun in a Barber Shop," he appeared as a barber in a shop occupied by five "customers," and performed all of the voices. Until the late 1920's, Cooper took his act into the nation's leading vaudeville houses, lodge halls, and private clubs, and was billed as a "clean and wholesome" performer.
By the 1930's Cooper introduced the dummy figure Sam Jackson who was carved by the well-known figure maker Theodore Mack, the maker of Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy. Cooper (under the name Hezikiah Jones) and Sam toured the country with "The Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour." During World War II Cooper and Sam toured the United States with the USO camp shows and also performed in veterans hospitals. He played at many private parties and nightclubs including New York's famed Kit Kat and El Morocco Clubs. Well-known and highly regarded by his fellow ventriloquists, he taught the art of ventroloquism to Shari Lewis, creator of "Lamb Chops." Cooper entertained children both in New York City's hospitals and in the homes of wealthy patrons. He retired from show business in 1960, at the age of 86.
Photographs transferred to Photographs and Prints Division.
Figures and artifacts transferred to Art and Artifact Division.
Audiotapes and videotapes transferred to the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division.
Finding aid available.