Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Paul was - - in my opinion - - the GREATEST VENTRILOQUIST of the 20th Century!

The characters he created - - JERRY MAHONEY, KNUCKLEHEAD SMIFF, and his own PAUL WINCHELL persona, were vividly alive and magically manipulated.
This book is STILL the best written tome on the subject. When I was a kid I would take it out of the library, return it, wait until they restocked it on the shelf and then took it out again. As my birthday approached my dad & mom wanted to get me the book, but they couldn't find one. So he wrote to Paul at the Little Little Theater off Times Square (currently the Helen Hayes) where he did his HARTZ MOUNTAIN SHOW and a few days later the copy above arrived in the mail. Autographed! What a way to encourage a young boy with stars in his eyes (and dummies on his knees).
This picture is from his first TV series for kids "WINCHELL/MAHONEY TIME". He would begin the show coming down on a slide with Jerry by his side. I was 3 years old and remember thinking that the kid is make believe, but he's also alive! Something kicked into my consciousness because right then I said to myself "I want to make other kids feel the way he makes me feel right now."
Paul was also profoundly inventive - - adding moving arms and things to his dummies. He also invented an upside-down chin face he called OSWALD.
Now get this: he was working Jerry, performing his voice without moving his lips while lying upside down on an inverted camera/split screen shot in extreme close-up on national television.
This shot is from his KTTV-11 series. The little girl is his feisty daughter APRIL WINCHELL (today a very funny, biting, voice-over artist.)
How did Paul bring the dummies arms to life? With the help of two talented "PUPPET COORDINATORS" JAY LLOYD (l) & SKIP LUDWIG, pictured below in this ultra rare shot with Paul's wife and April's mother NINA RUSSELL.
Along the way, Paul invented the artificial heart and did the voice of GARGAMEL on the Smurfs and TIGGER in Disney's Winnie The Pooh. But the dummies would continue to make furtive appearances in his life.

The last time we saw Paul was at a party thrown for him by his friend and confidant, producer Burt Dubrow. As he was giving a speech, Burt (an avid puppet collector) reached around the corner with a Jerry Mahoney replica. Winch went "Ohhhhh" like he was seeing an old friend, took him from Burt and launched into an hysterical, impromtu act. Unbelieveable and unforgettable.

Right after this picture was taken of Olga and me giving Winch the hug he deserves, I put my hands on his shoulders and we looked each other in the eyes. I say "Paul, you're the reason." And he said "Craig, you're the result."


  1. Thanks for posting this. He was inspirational to so many kids of our generation. Your memories are so vivid, tender, and respectful.

    What else can I say... thanks!

  2. Craig, thank you so very much for this moving tribute to the One and Only PW. Flowing, heartfelt and inspired...a thing of beauty, buddy. And such rare photo gems! I love the one of you and Olga with him! That was the Winch I knew and loved. Yes, Paul was one of a kind, a true genius and a fascinating chapter of my life in the precious few years we worked together. He gave me the gift of his trust, which I shall forever cherish. His kind of smarts -- unique, endlessly creative -- approached savant caliber. He'd write his cue cards upside down so he could read their reflection right-side up in the camera lens, his own low tech prompter. I'd look over in the editing room and he'd be teaching himself Japanese as we built a promo film for NAPTE. Even at his advanced age, he was a handsome rascal and solidly built, like a middleweight boxer. He stayed young in his heart the whole time I knew him -- he was always 25, multi-tasking, bouncing around, a whirling dervish Tasmanian Devil, his marvelous mind never stopping. Always creating. Typical of him would be calling to apologize for missing lunch because he had to be in Washington D.C. to appear in front of the Senate to pitch his idea for quelling hunger in Africa by a type of aquiculture (fish farming) he developed where tons of fish could be raised in brakish saltwater to feed the starving multitudes. "Yeah", he'd say matter of factly, "I gotta go meet Ed Asner and Richard Dreyfuss at this Senate thing and pitch the fish farm." He loved Chez Nous on Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake because the waitresses were cute and he could speak French to the cook. And I can only imagine how much he loved hearing that he was your Reason. A kid who taught himself ventriloquism while he laid in bed with polio, now thanked so eloquently for inspiring such a special life-altering passion. An amazing man who we miss so much. Your tribute is gold. His glow shimmers from the light you've held on it for us. Deep thanks and love from your bro' in very wet California.

  3. I met Daniel Linck (above comment) at the NAPTE CONVENTION where I was pitching "CaRt00nY ViSi0n" and he was pitching Paul Winchell Videos! He had become a good friend and business associate with his childhood idol, Winch, and Dann (as he was known then) and I became fast friends. Though I'd been corresponding with Paul for years, I'd never met him. So when I visited Dann in LA (I flew out for a Grateful Dead concert!)he arranged a lunch and PAUL WINCHELL was there!!! What a great surprise. Paul gave me his book "GOD 2000" ("I think you will appreciate this" he said) and then took us to a Hanna/Barbera recording session for the SMURFS. Daniel eventually helped develop and produce the Flexitoon/PBS Special "GOIN' UP" (which I wrote about in earlier blog postings). Dann is one of our dearest and most special friends.

  4. Very, very nice. Paul was good frineds with a friend of mine, June Foray. She loved working and talking to him

  5. Thanks for posting this, Craig. I also took Paul's book from the library repeatedly as a kid. It has great instructions for articulated facial features that could not be found in other puppet-building books. I loved his story of clogging the bathtub drain in his hotel room with plaster of paris, trying to make a mold for a puppet head. His TV show was fantastic and it was great to hear about it again.

  6. I Love the photos Craig of Paul with his puppets..but..the most beautilful and loving?

    Is the color shot of Young Ms.April Winchell with her arm around"Mr.Knucklehead Smiff"and "Mr.Jerry Mahoney"is watching this tender scene with love.

    You don't get such scenes like this anymore.

    Thanks for sharing this tribute to Paul Winchell,


  7. Paul was my inspiration as well. i never had the chance to meet him, but he changed my life and I guess made me what I am today. I did get to meet Olga at the Barrow Street theater as I took the course with Sully and Fania, and worked briefly in the shop on the Pinnocio puppets, thirty some years ago.

  8. Ah.....Thanks Craig. It was Carrot Top in the movie "Lili," Howdy Doody and Jerry Mahoney. Then, I was "done." Still creating and performing at 66.