Paul Winchell (December 21, 1922 – June 24, 2005) was an American ventriloquist and voice actor, whose career flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. During the mid-1960s, he hosted the children's television show Winchell-Mahoney Time (1965–1968). Winchell was also an amateur inventor, becoming the first person to build and patent a mechanical, artificial heart, implantable in the chest cavity (US Patent #3097366). He has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in television.
EARLY LIFEWinchell was born Paul Wilchinsky in New York City, New York, the son of Solomon and Clara (Fuchs) Wilchinsky. His father was a tailor; his grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Austria-Hungary.
Winchell's initial ambition was to become a doctor, but the Depression wiped out any chance of his family being able to afford medical school tuition. At age 13, he contracted polio; while recovering, he happened on a magazine ad offering a ventriloquism kit for ten cents. Back at school, he asked his art teacher, Jerry Magon, if he could receive class credit for creating a ventriloquist's dummy. Mr. Magon was agreeable, and Winchell named his creation Jerry Mahoney, by way of thanks.
Winchell went back to reading magazines, gathering jokes from them and putting together a comedy routine which he then took to the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, winning first prize. A touring offer, playing various theaters with the Major Bowes Review, was part of the prize. Bandleader Ted Weems saw the young Winchell while on tour; he visited Winchell and made him an offer of employment. Winchell accepted and became a professional at age 14.
He was not related to radio commentator and gossip columnist Walter Winchell, whose real last name was Winschel.
Ventriloquist workWinchell's best-known ventriloquist dummies were Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. Mahoney was carved by Chicago-based figure maker Frank Marshall. Sometime later Winchell had basswood copies of Jerry's head made by a commercial duplicating service. One became the upgraded Jerry Mahoney that is seen primarily throughout Winchell's television career. He modified two other copies to create Knucklehead Smiff. The original Marshall Jerry Mahoney and one copy of Knucklehead Smiff are in storage at the Smithsonian Institution. The other two figures are in the collection of illusionist David Copperfield.
Winchell's first show as a ventriloquist was on radio with Jerry Mahoney in 1943. The program was short-lived, however, as he was overshadowed by Edgar Bergen. Winchell also created Oswald, a character that resembled Humpty Dumpty. The effect was accomplished by painting eyes and a nose on his chin, then adding a "body" covering the rest of his face, and finally electronically turning the camera image upside down. In 1961, Berwin Novelties introduced a home version of the character that included an Oswald body, creative pencils to draw the eyes and nose and a "magic mirror" that automatically turned a reflection upside down.
During the 1950s, Winchell hosted children's and adult programs with his figures for NBC Television, and later for syndication. The NBC Saturday morning program, sponsored by Tootsie Roll, featured a clubhouse motif and a theme song co-written by Winchell and his longtime bandleader and on-air sidekick, Milton DeLugg. On one episode, the Three Stooges appeared on the show to promote their joint feature film venture, "Stop, Look, and Laugh" in late 1959.
Voice actingWinchell's career after 1968, included a great deal of voice acting for animated cartoons, most notably for Disney and Hanna-Barbera. For the latter, he played the character Dick Dastardly in multiple series (notably Wacky Races and Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines); Clyde and Softy on The Perils of Penelope Pitstop; and Fleegle on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, and Gargamel on The Smurfs. He also provided the voice of Boobie Bear in Help!... It's the Hair Bear Bunch! in 1971, the voice of Revs on Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, as Moe on The Robonic Stooges (a role he previously played on The New Scooby Doo Movies), and Shake on The CB Bears.
In 1973, he did the voice of Goober the Dog on the H-B show Goober and the Ghost Chasers and also guest starred as the rain-making villain on an episode of Hong Kong Phooey.
For Disney, Winchell was best known for voicing the character Tigger in Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh films and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, and won a Grammy Award for his performance in Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too.
Beginning with the television series The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, he alternated in the role with Jim Cummings, the current voice of Pooh. Winchell's final performance as Tigger was in 1999 in Winnie the Pooh: A Valentine for You (though Winchell played Tigger one more time in the attraction The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh featured in the Disney theme parks). Following Winchell's retirement, Cummings permanently took over the role of Tigger starting with Sing a Song with Pooh Bear in 1999. Other Disney roles included parts in The Aristocats as a Siamese cat named Shun Gon, and The Fox and the Hound as Boomer the woodpecker. On TV, he was the original voice of Zummi Gummi on Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears for seasons 1-5, Jim Cummings took over for the final season in 1990.
Winchell provided the voices of Sam-I-Am and his unnamed friend in Green Eggs and Ham from the animated television special Dr. Seuss on the Loose in 1973. He also performed the voice of Fleabag on The Oddball Couple, Fearless Freddy the Shark Hunter on the Pink Panther cartoon spin-off Misterjaw in 1976, as well as a number of one-shot characters in The Blue Racer series. In commercials, he voiced the character of Burger Chef for the fast food chain of the same name, the Scrubbing Bubbles for Dow Chemicals and Mr. Owl for Tootsie Roll Pops.
From 1981 to 1986, the talented voice actor performed one of his most notable roles; that of Gargamel on The Smurfs as well as on several Smurfs television movies. During the 1980s, he was called upon by Hanna-Barbera to reprise his role of Dick Dastardly on Yogi's Treasure Hunt (which was a tour-de-force featuring all of H-B characters) and later on Wake, Rattle and Roll (which was a Wacky Races spin-off). Also on the animated movie Yogi Bear and the Magical Flight of the Spruce Goose, he did the voice of the Dread Baron, who was previously voiced by John Stephenson on the Laugh-a-Lympics. The evil character is incredible similar to Dastardly, including having a canine henchman Mumbly, voiced by Don Messick Muttley's voice.
Live appearance workWinchell (often with Jerry Mahoney) was a frequent guest panelist on What's My Line? in 1956. Other work included on-camera guest appearances on such series as The Polly Bergen Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Virginian, The Lucy Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dan Raven, and The Brady Bunch, as well as a 1960 movie that included a compilation of Three Stooges shorts (Stop!, Look and Laugh), and a part in the Jerry Lewis movie Which Way to the Front?.
Winchell appeared as himself in 1963 in the NBC game show Your First Impression.
He appeared in the late 1960s in a gag on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in as a French ventriloquist named Lucky Pierre, who has the misfortune of having his elderly dummy die of a heart attack in the middle of his act.
On Love, American Style, he appeared with fellow ventriloquist Shari Lewis in a sketch about two shy people in a waiting room who choose to introduce themselves to each other through their dummies.
Winchell also appeared in Mrs. Doubtfire as the trolley driver in 1993.
Winchell-Mahoney TimeWinchell's most successful TV show was Winchell-Mahoney Time (1965–1968), a children's show written by his then wife, actress Nina Russel. Winchell played several onscreen characters, including Knucklehead Smiff's father, Bonehead Smiff. He also played himself as friend and adult advisor to Mahoney and Smiff. He also created "Oswald," a surreal character, by painting eyes and a nose on his chin, covering his face with a small costume, then having the camera image inverted. The resulting pinheaded character seemed to have an immensely wide mouth and a highly mobile head. Winchell created this illusion by moving his chin back and forth.
The show was produced at KTTV in Los Angeles, which was owned by Metromedia. In 1986, Winchell sued Metromedia (which by then was about to be purchased by Fox Television Stations as the foundation for the new Fox Network) over syndication rights to 288 surviving videotapes of the show. Metromedia responded by destroying the tapes. Subsequently, a jury awarded Winchell $17.8 million.
Winchell's last regular on-camera TV appearances working with his puppets were The Storybook Squares (a children's version of the adult celebrity game show The Hollywood Squares which was seen Saturday mornings on NBC during the 1969 TV season) and Runaround, another children's TV game show seen Saturday mornings on NBC from September 1972 to September 1973.
MedicalWinchell was interested in medicine and studied pre-med at Columbia University. He graduated from The Acupuncture Research College of Los Angeles in 1974, and became an acupuncturist. He also worked as a medical hypnotist at the Gibbs Institute in Hollywood.
PatentsWinchell developed over 30 patents in his lifetime. He invented an artificial heart with the assistance of Dr. Henry Heimlich (the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver) and held the first patent for such a device. The University of Utah developed a similar apparatus around the same time, but when they tried to patent it, Winchell's heart was cited as prior art. The university requested that Winchell donate the heart to the University of Utah, which he did.
There is some debate as to how much of Winchell's design Dr. Robert Jarvik used in creating Jarvik's artificial heart. Dr. Heimlich states, "I saw the heart, I saw the patent and I saw the letters. The basic principle used in Winchell's heart and Jarvik's heart is exactly the same." Jarvik denies that any of Winchell's design elements were incorporated into the device he fabricated for humans – the Jarvik-7 which was successfully implanted into Barney Clark in 1982.
Winchell established more medical patents while working on projects for the Leukemia Society (now known as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) and the American Red Cross. Some of the other devices he invented and patented include a disposable razor, a blood plasma defroster, a flameless cigarette lighter, an "invisible" garter belt, a fountain pen with a retractable tip, and battery-heated gloves.
HUMANITARIAN EFFORTSIn the 1980s Winchell, concerned about the starving African people, developed a method to cultivate tilapia fish in tribal villages and small communities. The fish thrives in brackish waters, which made it particularly well suited for sub-Saharan Africa. Winchell appeared before a Congressional Committee with several other celebrities, including actors Richard Dreyfuss and Ed Asner, and Dr. Henry Heimlich. The Committee declined to finance a pilot program for the tilapia aquaculture project (in Africa) because it required digging a well into non-potable water, which the Committee felt was not advisable.
FamilyWinchell had three biological children: a son, Stacy Paul Winchell; a daughter Stephanie from his first marriage to Dorothy (Dottie) Movitz; and a daughter, April Winchell, who is a comedienne and voice actress, from his second marriage, to actress Nina Russel.
Winchell's autobiography, Winch (2004), exposed many dark areas of Winchell's life, which had hitherto been kept private, including early stories of an abusive childhood, a long history of depression and at least one mental breakdown and a short stint in an institution. The autobiography opened old wounds within the Winchell family, prompting daughter April to publicly defend her mother who was negatively portrayed in the book. Winchell was estranged from his children, and thus they were not immediately notified of his death. A message on April's website stated:
T.T.F.N. I got a phone call a few minutes ago, telling me that my father passed away yesterday. A source close to my dad, or at least, closer than I was, decided to tell me himself, instead of letting me find out on the news, which I appreciate. Apparently a decision had been made not to tell me, or my father's other children. My father was a very troubled and unhappy man. If there is another place after this one, it is my hope that he now has the peace that eluded him on earth.
HobbiesWinchell was interested and involved in technology right up to the time of his death. He created and maintained a personal website until 2004. For a short time, he operated the now-defunct website ProtectGod.com, which discussed the theology of the latter years of his life.
DEATHWinchell died on June 24, 2005, of natural causes, at his home in Los Angeles California. He was 82 years old. Winchell was survived by his wife, daughter April, his other children, and three grandchildren. His remains were cremated and after cremation, his ashes were scattered all over his home property. Coincidentally, his death was one day before the death of John Fiedler, the voice of another Pooh character, Piglet.
After Winchell's death, Jim Cummings kept the role of Tigger and Dick Dastardly.
REFERENCES1. "Inventor of the Week Archive". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. September 2005. Retrieved 2008-05-08.
2. 1930 US Census, Brooklyn, NY, enumerators district 24-1447, sheet 19A
4. Salamon, Julie (2005-06-27). "Paul Winchell, 82, TV Host and Film Voice of Pooh's Tigger, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
5. Lawson, Tim; Persons, Alisa, eds (2004). The magic behind the voices: a who's who of cartoon actors. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 367. ISBN 1578066964. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
6. Herzog, Buck (15 October 1962). "Along Amusement Row". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 5 November 2010.
7. "On the Stage". Pittburgh Post-Gazette. 21 October 1939. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
8. Bernstein, Adam (27 June 2005). "TV Ventriloquist, Cartoon Voice And Inventor Paul Winchell Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-05-08.
9. "The Most Wonderful Thing about Tigger...". Wealth of Ideas. July 2005. Archived from the original on 2008-02-12. Retrieved 2008-05-08.
10. "Paul Winchell - Erroneous Claims". Jarvikheart.com. 2004-2008. Retrieved 2008-05-08.
11. "Winch," New York: Authorhouse, 2004 [ISBN 1414068972]
12. Winchell, April. "T.T.F.N.". Retrieved 2008-05-08.
13. Paul Winchell, 82, TV Host and Film Voice of Pooh's Tigger, Dies New York Times, Retrieved 2-8-2011