||[Feb. 5th, 2007|04:19 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
Every year I mean to take advantage of things like "Black History Month" and "Women's History Month" and "National Poetry Month" to learn more about the topic in question. Or at least read some good stuff that gets recommended when these events roll around. One year (1998, I think), back when I had money, I bought all the poetry books on either Amazon's or Powell's recommended list and I even read poetry out of all of them. That's how I discovered Don Hall's riveting Without, the only poetry book I've ever read cover to cover. It is an utterly absorbing meditation on his wife's death (in many different poems, not one big epic one).
Anyway, maybe I'll manage something like that again this year. Who knows. It's been simmering in the back of my mind ever since I read the Granny Gets a Vibrator blog posting where Granny decides to read, listen to, and view media aimed at African-Americans. I always meant to go back and read the rest of her posts on that subject and now I can't, cuz Granny's cancer came back and she took her blog down. Dammit. Poor woman.
But tonight I caught a bit of the History Detectives from Season 2 (Episode 7) which featured the ventriloquist's dummy of John W. Cooper, an African-Amercian ventriloquist from the turn of the 20th's century.
And I thought, how can I resist the serendipity?
So far as I know, we're not related. Apparently barrel-making was a prolific sort of activity a long time ago, because there are a heckuva lot of Coopers in the world now.
Moving on, you may not have heard of John W. Cooper, but he was apparently a gifted entertainer who created a detailed show called "The Barber Shop," involving multiple puppets he manipulated with his feet while cutting their hair and providing their voices. The show poked fun at both Blacks and whites without humiliating either. He was on the vaudville circuit in the late 1800s and appears to have broken into the big time by working during a strike by white vaudville performers in 1901.
He left behind one dummy, Sam Jackson, who claimed (during the act) to be a cousin of Charlie McCarthy, the famous dummy of Edgar Bergen. The History Detectives confirmed that by speaking with both the woman who runs a museum for the dolls (who showed them a catalog that had a very Sam-like dummy in it) and with an expert on the works of Theodore Mack, the famous puppet maker from Chicago who made Charlie.
However, it would appear from pictures that there were at least two or three other versions of Sam before the last one. It's unclear whether they were Mack's work as well.
AND Cooper taught ventriloquism to Shari Lewis, whom you should remember as the original puppeteer of Lamb Chop. (I had a Lamb Chop puppet when I was a kid... man I loved that thing). She's one of the first women I clearly remember saying things women are not supposed to say on TV. (Well, Lamb Chop said them, but still.)
The transcript of the show is off those PBS links above. And there's a nice summary on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_W._Cooper
Next up, I wanna read about stuff invented by African-Americans and women. Or maybe a history of inventing stuff so I can remind myself of all the stuff that came from the Far East and Middle East before Europe was a barbarian fart in a cold and crumbly castle.