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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Charlie McCarthy, comedy partner of Edgar Bergen, sold for $112,500 to David Copperfield. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
People forgot he was solid wood. For 50 years he inspired laughter in the hearts and homes of the American public. The lively, brassy Charlie McCarthy was one of a kind.

Actor Don Ameche, who worked for years with Edgar Bergen and Charlie on their radio show, once said: “I always have the feeling that (Charlie) is a definite living personality.” Before Bergen would take the dummy out of his case at the radio studio, Charlie could be heard screaming profanely for release.

As a teenager, Edgar Bergen fashioned Charlie after a quick-witted, and irreverent redheaded Irish boy named Charlie who sold newspapers on a corner in Decatur, Ill. He made sketches of the newsboy and gave the drawings to a barkeeper named Mac who was also a woodcarver.

Using a clay model, the carver created the dummy that Edgar christened “Charlie McCarthy,” “Charlie” from the newsboy and “McCarthy” after “Mr. Mac” who made him.

Simply constructed, Charlie weighs 40 pounds. He wears a size 4, and his shoes are a perfect 2AAA. His head is hollow pine and has a rubber band from the inside top of the skull to the back of his neck. His backbone is a 9-inch long broomstick that connects to a disc hinged at the neck. Cords are attached to his lower jaw allowing him to speak.

Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy made their debut in a Chicago amateur tryout paying $5 a night. Back then ventriloquists were common in carnivals and sideshows but less known on the vaudeville circuit. Charlie McCarthy changed all that.

From 1926 to 1936 the duo toured America and went abroad to Russia, Iceland, England and Sweden. When vaudeville began to decline they moved into nightclubs.

With the dawning of the Golden Age of Radio, Edgar Bergen signed a contract for his own radio show in 1937. For 2 1/2 years the show sponsored by Chase and Sanborn coffee aired on Sunday evenings and was first place in the ratings.

Best known for his verbal assaults, Charlie McCarthy referred to Emily Post as a “vulture for culture.” Headlines were made when Mae West guest-starred on the show.

“Why don’t you come up and see me sometime,” she asked. Charlie responded innocently, “What would I do?” “I’d let you play around in my woodpile,” she replied.

Charlie could say all the things an actor could never say in public and get away with it. In an interview with the New York Herald Tribune, Bergen spoke about Charlie McCarthy.

“Charlie is famous and I am the forgotten man. I am really jealous of the way Charlie makes friends. People are at ease with Charlie. He is so uncomplicated.”

The almost-human Charlie McCarthy sold on June 9, 1995, at Sotheby’s auction for $112,500. The buyer was world-renowned magician David Copperfield. Charlie McCarthy was the top selling lot in the Hollywood and Rock ’n’ Roll Memorabilia sale.

Copperfield plans to exhibit Charlie at the Copperfield museum located at a secret site in the Nevada desert. The museum was recently featured on the cover of Architectural Digest’s March 1995 issue.

Q. I am writing regarding old sheet music for the piano and violin. I have accumulated quite a bit over the years and the condition is good to poor. Would these things have much value? Alberta Herrock, Butler, Pa.

A. Sheet music is collected more for the old colorful lithographed covers than the music itself. Most sheet music available at flea markets and antique shops is worth under $5. There are exceptions.

Illustrations containing trains, boats, ships and planes are popular. Also, sheet music where Disney characters are featured can be collectible. Entertainers on the cover like Al Jolson and celebrities like Lon Chaney, Frank Sinatra, Santa Claus, Joan Crawford and Bing Crosby are collectible. They can average from $5-20 in fine condition.

As with most paper collectibles, condition is critical to value. What follows is a general overview for estimating value on your sheet music. By fine condition I mean no tears, no writing on the outside or inside and no stains. In other words-near mint.

Good condition means some wear, maybe a smudge, a small stain, or a tear less than 3/4 inch. In good condition sheet music is worth 50 percent of book value.

Fair condition denotes some stains, tears, smudges and you can estimate about 25 percent of book value. Poor condition means large tears and generally beat up condition. The value is 10-20 percent of original worth.

An expert in sheet music is Jeannie Peters of Mt. Washington Antiques in Cincinnati. Her number is 513-231-6584.

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