Jay and Squeaky
This is a picture of me at 11 years old. With me is “SQUEAKY”, a Jerry Mahoney juro vent doll with moving eyes from the Sears Catalogue. It was my Christmas present that year. It was not my first vent partner but the first one that I actually owned. At this point I was already a performing ventriloquist. I think of this as my first publicity picture.
Earlier that summer my family was in Roswell, New Mexico visiting my two uncles and their families. They lived in houses next door to each other. Uncle Dewey was a football coach and had two boys the same age as my brother and me. Uncle Charlie was an agent for American National Life Insurance, fairly well off and had two kids. Glen was my brothers age and Judy was my age.
Judy was a little bit of a “tom boy” and had all the toys that I wanted, including the one thing that I had been begging for, “a Jerry Mahoney Doll”. I asked for one all the time, but they were expensive and when I grew up dolls were not something that boys would get in Texas.
The minute I saw Jerry in the aqua green suit and red poka dot tie sitting in Judy’s room I was in love. He was in excellent condition, Judy did not play with him so he just sat on the shelf. I grabbed him and did not put him down for the entire Roswell visit. I knew exactly how to work him and had been playing with voices since I was five years old. I made him talk and startled Judy. She took me to show my Grandmother who was duly impressed with my technique and asked me how I “done” that. Soon no family member had escaped my routines with Jerry.
Time came to leave Roswell and Jerry my new best friend. Uncle Charlie and Judy did something then that would change my life forever. Uncle Charlie said since Judy never played with the doll, I could keep it until we all got together again at Christmas time with the stipulation I would perform a routine with Jerry for the family. My first partner and my first gig.
I practiced and practiced some more when I got home. I molded a routine using a few jokes and the song “Yankee Doodle” done “Alvin and the chipmunks” style with a lot of cutting up. I decided to call my partner Willie because Jerry was taken by Winchell. At the same time my Dad was in charge of entertainment for the December meeting of the Abernathy Lions Club and booked me to entertain the Lions Luncheon. He was also Superintendent for the Abernathy Schools and he got me to perform for the 1st grade their last day before holiday break.
That Christmas with a couple of shows already under my belt, the Johnson Family show went very well and started a tradition of performing for family reunions that continued for the next several years. That Christmas I got “SQUEAKY”, gave Willie back to Judy and a career was born. I continued to use that puppet, eventually fitting him with a dark hair wig and a suit made by my Mom, all the way through high school and two summers at Six Flags Theme Parks.
In college I contacted Art Seiving who carved an original “SQUEAKY” for me. That name and that puppet and I were together until “Soap” changed my act and life once again. SQUEAKY became Bob. His nice personality became caustic, and a new face was thrust upon me. But that is a different story.
Uncle Charlie is gone now. Willie was destroyed in a flood that ruined the Denver house basement. I don’t see Judy very much. But I will always be grateful for an unselfish act by my Uncle and Cousin that summer when I was eleven. They saw a passion and nurtured it. The loan of a doll and the goal of a show gave me a career. How does anyone say thank you for that?