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Ollie -- In The Beginning

When I was preparing to have Ollie join me in my nursing home programs I somehow knew that I had to first make him to be a real person in their mind. I also knew that he would be a character that wasn’t afraid to speak his mind as he is a free spirit sort of guy. After all, he would appear to be of the same age as the residents—and he would be able to say things they would be surprised at. His function, after all, is to bring a bit of levity and humor into their lives.

When Ollie arrived at my doorstep in September of ‘99 I was surprised at how small the box was that he was packed in. When I unwrapped him I immediately knew that his face was perfect but his body needed some work—a lot of work. He didn’t have any hips or butt! The legs were attached to the form that created his waist. There was no way that I could have him sit on my knee, as it would be my elbow that would become his butt.

I began the process of purchasing him some clothes. Somehow a stripped polo shirt and patent leather shoes just didn’t fit the character of Ollie. I went to a second hand kids store and found a red/green plaid flannel shirt and a pair of bibbed overalls that would appear to be the correct size for him—as soon as he got a body. Luckily, I found a pair of leather "high top" shoes that looked like something that he would wear.

Next came the process of building him a body. As my skill with a needle is limited, to say the least, imagine my thrill when my daughter Renee to build him a body. Thus it was that in late September Ollie left my home for his transformation from a head with a waist into a short old curmudgeon who could sit on my lap.

I had began to peak the interest of the nursing home tenants in early September by mentioning that my retired uncle would soon be living with us at our home. It was my intent to introduce him to the act in September. As he wasn’t ready to join me in October it afforded a real opportunity to build the illusion that he was a real person and develop his character before anyone had seen him.

Halfway through the hour long program I would stop, pause a moment and say: . .

I almost forgot. Do you remember the last time I was here I told you that my uncle Ollie would be living with us? Well you won’t believe what happened. Two weeks ago the doorbell rang and the UPS man had this big box for us. It was from Uncle Ollie and it weighed about 80 pounds. Crystal dragged it into the house, opened it and found it full of Uncle Ollie’s clothes. We were expecting a call from the airport asking us to come and pick him up. But we didn’t get a call and we began to get a little worried.

Three days later we get a postcard in the mail from Ollie. It says, "I decided to take the bus." That was all!

Two days later we get a postcard with a picture of the Grand Canyon on it. On the back in Uncle Ollies handwriting was written, "Sure is a big ditch." Ah ha, we thought—he is at the Grand Canyon.

Two days later we get another postcard with a picture of Las Vegas on it. On it Ollie wrote, "I tried to check into this fancy hotel but they made my buy some new clothes first. It sure is darned hard to get some sleep here as they like to keep the lights on all night."

It seems that Ollie had sent all of his clothes to us and didn’t think ahead to pack a change of clothes for himself. At this point the audience chuckles as they realize that my Uncle Ollie must be a forgetful type of guy but he is a bit adventurous and most of them have never struck out on their own as did Ollie.

Ollie Arrives

It was in late October when my daughter Renee returned Ollie to me. She did a terrific job rebuilding his body. She began by lengthening his body creating a character that is about 36" tall with logical proportions.

She build his body of foam rubber with a slot through the middle of his back into which I can insert my arm to reach his head.

The head of Ollie is latex rubber and contains the ventriloquist entire hand as opposed to the ventriloquist holding a stick. While the ability to move the eyes isn’t available the ability to move his mouth to speak, make faces, chew and wiggle his nose is available. With the hand in the head it is quite easy to nod, shake his head yes or now and couple movements to suit the mood of the situation. It was time for his grand entrance.

When I started the November Thanksgiving programs I would pause for a moment during the first ten minutes to announce that my Uncle Ollie had arrived the previous evening. Although I encouraged him to stay at home to catch up on his sleep he insisted that he be allowed to come to the show as he was curious as to what I was doing. On the way over Ollie fell asleep in the backseat as was snoring loudly when we came in. I assured them that I would be breaking away in a little bit because it was a bit cold outside and I really didn’t want Uncle Ollie to get out of the car and walk off somewhere to get lost. The looks on the audience’s faces reinforced their concern for Ollie’s safety.

Halfway through the program I had Crystal take over the microphone and speak to them while I went to the car to get Uncle Ollie. Of course, while she was speaking to them I was really "putting Ollie on my arm" in another room. As we walked back into the entertainment center Ollie was just cussing me out in the worst way.

"You let me outside in the car."

"It’s cold."

"He left me outside (looking at the audience)."

"It’s cold."

Ollie continued with this dialogue for about a minute or so without letting me get a word in edgewise. The faces in the audience lit up as they realized they had been fooled and the joke was on them. They learned one thing really fast—Uncle Ollie was fun.

There are always some things that happen that are unexpected. At Ollie’s first performance I tried to have him interact with the audience. The success of Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy began when Charlie started to interact with people in the audience. In Ollie’s first introduction he really bombed (Thursday, November 4th) because the members in the audience didn’t know how to interact with him. He was too new.

It occurred to me on the way home what the problem was. They were in the audience to be entertained. They were not the entertainers. I had to develop a routine that was entertaining quickly. Believe it or not, the idea of a routine occurred to me on the way to the Friday, November 5th performance. I saw an Ice Cream truck parked alongside the road. While the ice cream is of high quality it is quite expensive. Ollie would be a perfect target for this type of product.

Thus it was, Ollie made his mid-performance entrance and Ollie’s Ice Cream routine was created spontaneously. As always, practice makes perfect. When one does four-five performances a month they can get a lot of practice. During the performance in Frankenmuth (Saturday November 20th) we started with our usual songfest with the usual attendance of 30 plus people.

This was Ollie’s second appearance and he joined me at the start of the show. As we performed the attendance grew as the nursing staff and visitors just seemed to "melt" into the room while other stood in the door ways. He had captured their hearts and imagination, as he was now an entertainer. All we had to do was "have a conversation."

I especially got a kick out of one person. She and her husband sat at a table almost directly in front of me about ten feet away. During the period prior to Ollie the wife would appear to be asleep as she slumped back in her chair with her eyes closed. However, when Ollie came in she didn’t take her eyes off of him.

Later, while talking to Crystal about it, she told me that when people have nothing to do they just relax and enjoy the music and singing. She wasn’t sleeping as she always "woke up" when I would speak to them. Ollie gave them something to watch as he was always doing something—looking around, yawning, chewing his lip—while I was performing a song.

It was during the Christmas program that Ollie really got on a roll with his ice cream routine. You can read it at: Ollie Routines


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Last modified:    April 2013