A true gentlemen entertainer

tsj column writers pigeon droppingsBy Bob Hamill

Alex Houston is a true gentleman entertainer. He started learning his craft at the age of three. He is 82 years old so do the math. Too late. For 79 years Alex has been doing ventriloquism.

“My father raised bird dogs and he was calling them in. I started mimicking him but without moving my lips. My aunt was on the porch with me and said to my father that boy is a ventriloquist. I didn’t know what that was. I just new it was fun and I Loved hearing the people laugh”.

His first dummy was one of those you would see advertised on the back of comic books. Not a very impressive start but for a boy that would grow up and perform at the Grand Ol’ Opry with some of the top names in Country, it would be a good learning tool. Alex still has that figure, it’s had a lot of plastic surgery but still reminds him of his roots.

Alex started to get some shows happening and needed a professional character. His father was a big influence. He supported him in every way. He even wrote his jokes for him and got him a show at the Republican Convention. After the gig he knew he had to be serious and found the local police chief. He was getting older, retiring and did ventriloquism What was to become ‘Elmer,’ Alex life long partner went for the price of $50.00.

The man who carved Elmer was Lee Ensull who resided in England. He was a very popular figure maker over there and most Brit vents had one. He’s a very distinct dummy that can curl his upper lip and snarl, showing human teeth. That could be scary.

The big break came for this dynamic duo was in 1957. Now, this man is known for his sausage products. Then he was known for his TV show and his big hit “Big Bad John”. Mr. Dean also gave another novelty puppet act their first big break to Jim Henson and the muppets. Jim was so grateful for the big break, he offered Dean 40% of his company. Dean Declined as he did nothing but put him on camera.

It was rough in those days as television is a monster joke eater. You had to do 5 days a week with new material. On top of that Alex accepted a position as writer for another show. “I wasn’t fond of doing all that writing but was good experience.

Nothing last forever and after the shows run they continued to work with some of the top country stars. He also did several tours with the USO and special services. He saw some combat shows but also worked in Hawaii entertaining the troops coming out of battle for some R&R.

Alex now lives in Pigeon Forge with his wife of 25 years, Sherrie. His favorite part of his life is all the wonderful people he met. One of his favorite people was Rosie Pride, wife of Charlie. She liked to play practical jokes. One night Alex went out on the stage as he usually does, picked up his suitcase and knew right away something was missing. The removed Elmer. You can still hear Rosie laugh.

Alex

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