John W. Cooper collection

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Collection Data

Description
The John W. Cooper Collection documents Cooper's long career as a ventriloquist. Included are letters received from ventriloquists, magicians and other entertainers discussing their experiences, and from various organizations where Cooper performed, arranging for gigs and thanking him for his performances, including for the USO Camp shows during World War II (1906-1966). Letters from William S. Berger, president of the Vent Haven Museum in Kentucky, discuss the museum; and there is correspondence with entertainment organizations to which he belonged. There are also a few scripts of dialogue for Cooper and his figure, Sam, and writings by Cooper regarding teaching the art of ventriloquism to students. Promotional literature and programs for Cooper's performances as well as other ventriloquists and performers are in the collection. Scrapbooks about his career include programs, letters, promotional material, and news clippings (1897-1947).
Names
Cooper, John W. (John Walcott), 1873-1966 (Creator)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1887 - 2001
Library locations
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division
Shelf locator: Sc MG 743
Topics
Actors
Vaudeville -- United States
Ventriloquism -- United States
Cooper, John W. (John Walcott), 1873-1966
Lewis, Shari
Maynard, Joan
Tyler, Willie
Wences, Señor, 1896-1999
Genres
Correspondence
Scrapbooks
Clippings
Programs
Promotional materials
Notes
Biographical/historical: John Walcott Cooper (1873-1966) was a Brooklyn born ventriloquist. From 1886 until about 1890 he was a singer with a vocal group called The Southern Jubilee Singers. He debuted as a ventriloquist in the 1895-1896 theatrical season, and gave his first professional show in 1897. He began touring the minstrel circuit with Richards and Pringles Georgia Minstrels as early as 1901. In addition to ventriloquism, with his first wife, Etta Freeman, a pianist, he told stories in dialect, did fancy paper tearing, freehand drawing, and "mind reading." From the very outset, Cooper wrote his own material and continued to do so throughout his sixty years as a performer and also designed his scenery. In his earliest skit, Fun in a Barber Shop, Cooper appeared as a barber in a shop occupied by five "customers," speaking in six different voices. Until the late 1920's, Cooper took his act into the nation's leading vaudeville houses, lodge halls, and private clubs, and was billed as a "clean and wholesome" performer. By the 1930's Cooper introduced the dummy figure Sam Jackson who was carved by the well-known figure maker Theodore Mack, the maker of Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy. Cooper (under the name Hezikiah Jones) and Sam toured the country with The Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour. Following the death of his first wife, he married Juliana St. Bernard with whom he had a daughter Joan (Maynard) who later became the director of the Weeksville Society in Brooklyn. During World War II Cooper and Sam toured the United States with the USO camp shows and also performed in veterans hospitals. He played many private parties and nightclubs including New York's famed Kit Kat and El Morocco Clubs. Well-known and highly regarded by his fellow ventriloquists, he taught his art to Shari Lewis, creator of Lamb Chops. Cooper entertained children both in New York City's hospitals and in the homes of wealthy patrons. Upon the death of his second wife in 1960, Cooper retired from show business at age 86. His daughter, Joan Maynard, maintained his papers and figures.
Content: The John W. Cooper Collection documents Cooper's long career as a ventriloquist. Included are letters received from ventriloquists, magicians and other entertainers discussing their experiences, and from various organizations where Cooper performed, arranging for gigs and thanking him for his performances, including for the USO Camp shows during World War II (1906-1966). Letters from William S. Berger, president of the Vent Haven Museum in Kentucky, discuss the museum; and there is correspondence with entertainment organizations to which he belonged. There are also a few scripts of dialogue for Cooper and his figure, Sam, and writings by Cooper regarding teaching the art of ventriloquism to students. Promotional literature and programs for Cooper's performances as well as other ventriloquists and performers are in the collection. Scrapbooks about his career include programs, letters, promotional material, and news clippings (1897-1947). Cooper's daughter, Joan Maynard, promoted his legacy by arranging for exhibits about her father at the Brooklyn Historical Society and by lecturing about him. Files discuss the arrangements, genealogical information, and Maynard's input regarding biographical information to be published. A copy of Stanley Burns' book Other Voices featuring Cooper and other ventriloquists is included. Maynard also maintained an active correspondence with other ventriloquists, including Shari Lewis and Chilly Willie Reid (1982-2001). Maynard also continued subscribing to journals about ventriloquism, and issues of Dialogue, The Oracle, and The New Oracle are represented in the collection. Cooper's broad range of influence for his act is represented through the subjects of books and other printed material he maintained in the fields of magic tricks, music and songs,shadowgraphy, vaudeville and ventriloquism (1887-ca. 1944),including Jubilee and Plantation Songs.
Physical Description
Extent: 6 boxes 3.33 linear feet
Type of Resource
Text
Still image
Identifiers
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b16134316
MSS Unit ID: 181330
Archives collections id: archives_collections_181330
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 6eaee210-e727-0139-27cc-0242ac110004
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