File puptcrit/puptcrit.0602, message 151

Date: Thu, 16 Feb 2006 09:50:44 -0800
Subject: Re: [Puptcrit] Rickie Lane Obit

Rickie Layne, 81, Borsht-Belt Ventriloquist
BY STEPHEN MILLER - Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 16, 2006
URL: <>

Rickie Layne, who died Saturday at 81, was a borsht-belt
ventriloquist who became nationally famous thanks to dozens
of television appearances on Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the
Town" in the 1950s.

Layne's shtick displayed an often contentious relationship
with his Yiddish inflected dummy Velvel, who seemed to
inhabit a slightly parallel mental universe. In what was
perhaps their best-known routine, Layne - who in real life
is half Castilian - tries to teach Velvel the noble art of

"The bull charges ... and then you take out your espada."
[The matador's killing sword].

"My what?"

"You take out your espada."

After much consternation, Velvel says, "So I take out my
espada in front of 10,000 people. What do I do with my

"You wave it over your head."

"Evidently, you haven't seen my espada."

Layne, born Richard Israel Cohen, grew up in Brooklyn, son
of a Castilian father and Russian immigrant mother who
performed in an accordion act under the moniker "Gypsy
Sonya." Already an accomplished mimic of the popular
entertainers Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, he was thrilled
when, at age 9, his uncle Norbert bought him a
ventriloquist's dummy. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy
were among the most popular radio shows of the day.

Layne originally named his dummy "Gladstone," after Prime
Minister Gladstone, because, he told the Jewish Journal in
2002, "he slept in a Gladstone bag" - a high-end, two sided,
pouchy leather tote. "Velvel" - as he later became - is
simply Yiddish for Willy, and its homely origins but exotic
sound were typical of Layne's humor.

Layne started out on the borscht belt, alternately waiting
tables and performing alongside the likes of Jerry Lewis at
venues in the Catskills and New Jersey. Later, as a member
of Major Bowes's Amateur Hour traveling unit, he toured
widely. During World War II, he served in an Army
entertainment unit devoted to recruiting for the Women's
Army Corps, his daughter, Teri Layne, said.

After the war, Layne appeared in touring revues, including
"Borsht Capades," and "Bagels and Yox." In 1949, he moved to
Panorama City, Calif., and found work at various clubs in
the Los Angeles area. In 1955, the Los Angeles Times
reported that in his appearance in the revue "Halvah
Hilarities," "Rickie Layne and his toy Velvel 'sent' the
crowd with their 'hip' chatter." Ventriloquism seemed to
have a beat edge.

His big break came later that year, when Nat King Cole
caught the act at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip. King was there
to see his wife Maria sing, but he loved Layne's act, and
told Sullivan he should book it. When Sullivan demurred - he
couldn't travel to California to see an audition - Cole
offered to perform for Sullivan for free if Layne's act
bombed. Layne appeared on the January 1, 1956, episode of
"Toast of the Town," and was immediately rebooked.

"Sullivan really liked Rickie, and Velvel would call him
'Mr. Solomon,'" the president of the International
Ventriloquists Association, Valentine Vox, said. "He became
his foil."

The television exposure led to higher exposure gigs at New
York's Copacabana, the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, and the
Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. Layne appeared several times
each year on Sullivan through 1964, and kept touring
nightclubs through the 1970s. For the Jewish Journal he
recalled a joke from an appearance in Reno in 1978:

"I did a gag with the dummy where he had a mustache. I'd
say, 'You're just jealous because your mustache is bigger
than mine,' and Velvel would answer, 'Anything I have is
bigger than yours.'" He still had the old magic.

"I'm not a good ventriloquist," Layne told the Jewish
Journal. "I'm basically a comic. I use the dummy as an
excuse to do dialogue."

In 2002, the International Ventriloquists Association
awarded him its Askins award for contributions to the art.

Rickie Layne

Born Richard Israel Cohen on October 30, 1924, in Brooklyn;
died February 11 of heart failure at the Tarzana (Calif.)
Hospital; survived by his daughters, Sandy Duncan and Teri
Layne, and four granddaughters.

Steve Axtell
Axtell Expressions, Inc.
Website -
New on DVD "AxTelevision"! -
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