Edgar Bergen is best remembered for his ventriloquism and his diverse cast of comedic wooden dummy co-performers. Bergen was born February 16, 1903 in Decatur, Michigan. Self-taught, Bergen caught the attention of Harry Lester, a master ventriloquist who schooled Bergen in the art. Bergen mastered the art of ventriloquism before he finished high school. Before he graduated, Charlie McCarthy was born. Charlie’s life first began as a drawing made by Bergen, who later had the puppet carved by some accounts by the local butcher and in others the local bartender, who in any case, also happened to be a woodworker. Charlie’s character and physical appearance came from Bergen’s observation of a local newsboy, named Charlie. Bergen later revealed that the Mc in McCarthy came from Mack, the last name of the man who carved Charlie into life.
The Bergen-McCarthy act quickly grew in popularity. Audiences were enthralled with the sassy and snappy Charlie McCarthy. The act made their radio debut in 1936, on the Rudy Vallee’s Royal Gelatin Hour. The following year, the Chase and Sanborn Coffee company offered Bergen the opportunity to star in his own radio show. The Edgar Bergen Charlie McCarthy show was playfully credited with saving the nation from panic and chaos. It was estimated that at least half of the October 30, 1938 nightly listeners were tuned into the Bergen show, while Orson Welles broadcast his famous, War of the Worlds.
Bergen continued to delight and entertain radio audiences for nearly twenty years. Guest on his show included Carole Lombard, W.C. Fields, Sonja Henie, Hoagie Carmichael, Mary Pickford, Bette Davis, Clark Gable and many others. The last broadcast was heard on July 1, 1956. After his radio show ended, Bergen kept busy with a number of television appearances. During his lifetime, he also enjoyed a film career. His film performances include the 1938 production of The Goldwyn Follies and the 1948 film, I Remember Mama. His last film appearance, at the insistence of his actress daughter, Candice Bergen was in the 1979 release of The Muppet Movie. Edgar Bergen died on September 28, 1978. Charlie McCarthy and his companions, Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker currently reside at the Museum of Broadcast Communications.