Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Counterfeit Dummy

Several years ago a dummy was presented for auction on ebay. The dummy resembled Jerry Mahoney. The seller presented it as a dummy that Paul Winchell made for himself from scratch years ago but never used because it did not look enough like the real Jerry. This claim was reinforced by the appearance of Paul Winchell's name woodburned on the headstick. The forgery is obvious to anyone who has seen Winch's distinctive autograph. A scam was afoot.

It was also obvious that this dummy is an original sculpture made by Conrad Hartz as his Nosey character. But Conrad sculpts only in basswood. This head is cast in fiberglass. Conrad does not make fiberglass heads. Clearly someone had made a mold of one of Conrad's figures and this dummy was a cast made from that mold. Conrad saw this auction, was not pleased, and he notified the seller of the discrepancy. The seller withdrew the auction. Nothing more was heard about this dummy until earlier this year.

One of my clients purchased a Jerry Mahoney lookalike from someone, I do not know who. My client sent the dummy to figuremaker Mike Palma to have the control stick modified so the jaw lever would be under his thumb. Mike did not have time to do the work, so he sent the figure to me. I immediately recognized the figure's head as the counterfeit Jerry Mahoney with the forged Winchell signature.

The head was sitting on a badly made body (two pieces of board and some dowels) with very skinny appendages and Brose hands. It also had a badly butchered Henri Margu child's wig. The wig broke my heart. It is the same wig that Dexter, my woodcarved Selberg original, wears, originally very expensive, and no longer in production. This wig would have been a nice backup for Dexter. But someone chopped off its sideburns and made it useless for Dexter.

The dummy's controls were junk. The jaw worked okay, but had a really loud click when opening and closing. The eyes moved in only one direction and only for a limited travel. Later when I disassembled him I learned why. The figure maker got paint on the eyeballs when he painted the eye's ridges. So, instead of removing the eyes and cleaning them, he simply limited their motion so the paint wouldn't show.

Interestingly, the fiberglass cast and the paint job were rather nice, but the brass jaw axle had penetrated the cheek and was sticking out the side.

I notified my client that he owned not only a piece of junk, but a counterfeit dummy. He is a prominent ventriloquist. We agreed that he should not perform with something with such questionable origins if only to protect his image and reputation. I also told him that I had an ethical problem with working on it. Its very existence infringes the copyright held by Conrad Hartz, a colleague, friend, and all around good guy.

My client was in a quandry. He had paid good money for something he could not use. I was working on a project for him. We agreed that he would give me the bogus Jerry in exchange for the work.

Now the guandry is mine. I can't use the damn dummy either. I called Conrad and told him about it. We discussed perhaps making copies and jointly selling heads on top of Hartz bodies as a lowcost Hartz tribute figure. I have a Hartz 3T body that is Dexter's when a tuxedo is called for. The phony head fits it perfectly.

Before I could think further about the project, I had my eyesight loss. No way am I going to go into a production business when my ability to produce is compromised this way. So the figure sat neglected in a corner. I gave his body to a friend who is building a Brose kit. He is of no use to me except that I did a good deed by taking a counterfeit off the market.

Here's a video I shot in my studio. The dummy in question is the one in the tux.

He sure reminds me of Mike McGuire, my first character from 50-plus years ago. More to come...