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Wenceslao Moreno, born in Peñaranda de Bracamonte, province of Salamanca, Spain (April 17, 1896–April 20, 1999), better known as Señor Wences, was a 20th-century Spanishmarker ventriloquist whose popularity grew with his frequent appearances on CBS-TV's Ed Sullivan Show.

Biography

Wences was born in the province of Salamancamarker, Spainmarker. His father was Antonio Moreno Ross, artist, and his mother was Josefa Centeno Lavera, both from Salamanca.

Wences was known for his speed, skill, and grace as a ventriloquist. His stable of characters included Johnny, a childlike face drawn on Wences' hand, which he would place atop an otherwise headless doll and with whom Wences conversed while switching his voices between Johnny's falsetto and his own voice at amazing speed. Wences would create Johnny's face on stage to open his act, placing his thumb next to, and in front of, his bent first finger; the first finger would be the upper lip, and the thumb the lower lip. He used lipstick to draw the lips onto the respective fingers and then drew eyes onto the upper part of the first finger, finishing the effect with a tiny long-haired wig on top of his hand. Flexing the thumb would move the "lips."

Another popular Wences character was the gruff-voiced Pedro, a disembodied head in a box. Wences was forced to suddenly invent the character when his regular, full-sized dummy was destroyed during a train accident en route to a performance. Pedro would either 'speak' from within the closed box, or speak with moving lips — simply growling, "s'awright" — when Wences opened the box's front panel with his free hand. A large part of Wences' comedy lay in the well-timed, high-speed exchange of words between himself and his creations, and in the difference in their voice pitches.

Part of Moreno's act involved the ventriloquist throwing his voice while his mouth was otherwise engaged (smoking or drinking). Another favorite prop was a telephone, with Wences playing both sides of a telephone conversation. For the "caller" he simulated a "filtered" voice as it would sound over a telephone wire. This voice always began a conversation with a shouted "Moreno?" (Wences's true surname), with Wences in person patiently explaining, "No, Moreno is not here."

Wences usually built to a big finish that combined ventriloquism with graceful juggling and plate-spinning. As Wences performed his routines, Pedro and Johnny mercilessly heckled him with flawless comedic timing.

Although he was an international favorite for decades, his main career was made in the United States. He appeared regularly on TV variety shows including a memorable half-hour turn on The Muppet Show. His last TV appearance was on The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show, #2, a CBS retrospective in which nonagenarian Wences talked about "Suliban" and performed a brief spot of ventriloquism.

Wences pronounced his name the traditional Castilian way, which in English sounds like "WEN-thess". After Sullivan would announce him saying his name as "Señor Wen-sess", the ventriloquist would subtly correct Sullivan's pronunciation by announcing himself to the audience: "Hello, I am Señor Wen-thess".

Wences died just three days after his 103rd birthday. He had been residing in New York City on 54th Street, just around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theatermarker. That section of 54th Street has been named "Señor Wences Way." His portrait can be seen at the Players Clubmarker in New York.

Personal life

He married Esperanza Martin (1902-1983), for her he named Johnny as "Johnny Martin." His second and last wife, Natalie Cover, née Eisler (1917-2005) was also his manager. His first wife was born in North Africa, the second was born in Russiamarker. His nephew, José Luis Moreno and brother, Felipe Moreno, were also ventriloquists. Wences has descendants in the U.S.A. and a son in Chile.

Catchphrases

  • One of Wences's trademark bits of shtick (referenced several times below) involves his dialogue with a low voice emanating from inside a box. At the opening of the dialogue he would shout, "Hello in the box!" At the conclusion of the dialogue, he would open the lid of the box and ask "S'awright?" ("It's all right?") and the box voice would answer "S'awriiiiight!"
  • Another involved explaining to his hand puppet that something was easy to do, to which the puppet would reply, "Easy for you, difficult for me!" in his Spanish accent.


Popular culture references

  • In the cartoon series Quick Draw McGraw of 1959 at the program's end there is a dialog between Quick Draw McGraw and his side-kick where they repeat the famous lines of "S'awriiiight".


  • In the "Family Portrait" episode from season 1 of "The Munsters," Herman Munster lifts a manhole cover while looking for Grandpa. He yells down the manhole, and a voice tells Herman that Grandpa isn't there. Herman says "OK" and the voice repeats "OK." Herman says "S'awright?" and the voice responds "S'awright."


  • There is an homage to Señor Wences in the first season Scooby-Doo episode, "Hassle in the Castle". His voice and catch phrase "S'awriiiight" is used by the talking skeleton head that gives Shaggy directions.


  • Several episodes of the animated series Roger Ramjet are set in the fictional South American republic of San Domino, which is so small and impoverished that the President's Cabinet is literally a wooden cabinet. When the President wishes confirmation of some train of thought, he asks it "S'awright?" and a gruff voice from within replies "S'awright."


  • In the Chilly Willy cartoon "Half-Baked Alaska" (1965), while getting his order for pancakes from Smedly the dog, Chilly and Smedly did a routine similar to the "Nice? Nice" act. A similar gag happens at the end of "Pesty Guest" (1965).


  • A reference to Señor Wences occurred in the 1979 movie The In-Laws. The dictator of the South American country in which the action takes place, at one point talks to the main protagonists indirectly, via a "Johnny"-like character drawn on his hand named "Señor Pepe." At that point, any doubts they may have had about his sanity are confirmed.


  • In "Fat Butt and Pancake Head", an episode of the animated television series South Park, Eric Cartman creates a hand puppet identical in style to Señor Wences' "Johnny." Cartman's puppet is a parody of singer Jennifer Lopez, but the puppet still speaks like Johnny, with a high-pitched voice and stereotypical Spanish accent. Cartman and the puppet also go through several of Señor Wences's classic routines, such as having the puppet "kiss" a real person and enjoying it tremendously. Cartman and "Miss Lopez" share the trademark "s'awright" routine Wences used to do with his "Pedro" puppet.






  • In the early 1980s, a Tri-State (New Yorkmarker, New Jerseymarker, Connecticutmarker) Honda dealer's commercial featured Señor Wences with Johnny. Pedro's "s'awright" was a voice from the tricked out glovebox. Señor Wences would point out all of the car's features to which Johnny would reply, "Nice!" This may have been Señor Wences final commercial appearance. It was shot in Puerto Rico because its star declined to travel to New York.


  • Wences's "s'awright" shtick was frequently alluded to on the animated TV show The Flintstones.


  • In Disney's Aladdin, there are two references to Señor Wences. The first happens when Aladdin first meets the Genie: When the Genie (Robin Williams) describes himself as "often imitated," the voice he uses is a high-pitched, Spanish-accented voice similar to "Johnny" (he's also seen as a ventriloquist, though with a traditional dummy). The second is near the end, when Aladdin suggests Jafar wish to be a genie. The Genie makes a "Johnny"-like hand puppet and says that Aladdin's "A little punch-drunk. One too many hits with the snake."


  • In Disney's Return of Jafar, there is a reference to Señor Wences. Genie sings "There's Nothing in the World like a Friend". His quote "Moroccans set my fairy tales of seven veils" is that he uses for a high-pitched, Spanish-accented voice.


  • In the Sam & Max comic, Bad Day on the Moon, Max spends a brief time as disembodied spirit in possession of Sam's hand, taking on the appearance of "Johnny"-type puppet, except with bunny ears. Max says the "s'awright" line to make it clear that this is a tribute.


  • In the novel Caramelo, one of the characters meets Señor Wences in a Chicago jail cell.


  • In the movie America's Sweethearts there is the following discussion:
    • Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal): We had to make a Weidmann film! He has three Oscars. He's a genius.
    • Dave Kingman (Stanley Tucci): No, there's only one genius in this business, and that was Señor Wences! A little lipstick, some hair, and his hand, and the guy had a career for 85-years!


  • In the online game Kingdom of Loathing there is a character, Blaine, whose icon is a box (referencing David Blaine). Talking to him will start certain quests. However, if he has no quests to give you, the description will read: "You knock on the side of the crate, and ask 'S'alright?' A voice inside mutters, 'S'alright.'"




  • There is a brief reference in "Cheers" when Dianne is trapped in a heating duct under the floor of the bar and only her head is visible from the vent. As Sam gets up to call someone to get her out, he closes the vent, opens it again and asks, "S'alwright?" to which she quickly responds "S'awriiiight".


References

  • http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/1999/04/19241
  • http://www.tv.com/senor-wences/person/142481/summary.html
  • http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F07E3D9173AF932A15757C0A96F958260
  • http://www.salon.com/people/obit/1999/04/20/wences/
  • (Information about his private life,was provided to me by his granddaughter and two great-grandchildren).


External links




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