Edgar Bergen turned a block of white pine named Charlie McCarthy into a national institution. The ventriloquist was a soft spoken comedian who hid behind the brash antics of McCarthy, the doltish Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker, the spry old maid.
The Bergen-McCarthy partnership, which was to span six decades, began about 1920 while Bergen was still a student at Lakeview High School in Chicago.
The idea for McCarthy, Bergen later explained, came from a cocky Irish newsboy who used to hawk newspapers in the neighborhood.
Bergen's career paralleled the evolution of entertainment in this country. He was the prototypical vaudeville performer working the Chautauqua the Lyceum theaters, then vaudeville followed by radio, nightclubs motion pictures and television.
In 1937, he was awarded a special Academy Award for his many film shorts and his appearances in motion picture musicals.
He was found dead in a Las Vegas hotel room — where he was performing — just weeks after he had announced his retirement. At the time of that announcement, he promised to give McCarthy to the Smithsonian. His daughter, actress Candice Bergen, and then teen-age son Kris, were in the audience for what proved to be their father's final opening night.
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