Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College Archives and Special Collections

Academics

@ElizaBTweetin: March 10, 1873: Ventriloquist Harry Bryant

Posted on February 21, 2014

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, 5-10 March 1873

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary,
5-10 March 1873

The 1873 lecture series seems to have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, or perhaps ended with a bang! Following Mr. Fields’ lecture on Tennyson, the final presentation was by Mr. (sometimes “Prof.”) Harry Bryant, a famous ventriloquist, mimic, magician and humorist. Born in Connecticut in ca. 1845, Bryant was a ventriloquist at the P.T. Barnum Museum from 1841 to 1868. In 1865, his publication of Harry Bryant's book of comic songs: full description of the pantomime, as performed by the National Combination & Variety Show, together with a full exposition of the science of ventriloquism (Buffalo: J. Warren & Co.) seems to indicate a willingness to share the secrets of his art.

Bryant with one of his dummies, in the "Moral Lecture Room," at the Barnum Museum, 1865.

Bryant with one of his dummies, in the "Moral Lecture Room," at the Barnum Museum, 1865.

Instead of "throwing" his voice (making inanimate objects appear to speak) Bryant used dummies (apparently one was named "Aitchjaydee").  He (they) appeared frequently in Boston and New York City, and traveled as far as Canada,  England, and Australia, either giving solo performances, or joining circus or vaudeville shows. Bryant joined “Mr. and Mrs. Ware’s Entertainment” in Ottawa in 1874, proving himself “a master in that most difficult of vox humani accomplishments.” Later in the 1870s, he joined shows organized by Tony Pastor. During the 1880s, the Suydam Brothers hired Bryant for their show in New York City, where he shared the stage with jugglers, acrobats, singers and dancers.

His shows apparently provided family-friendly fare, for Bryant often performed at Y.M.C.A. and both Catholic and Protestant Sunday School parties and May Day celebrations. Bryant's performances were regularly described as “delightful", creating an evening "of mirth and jollity,” perhaps because he exhibited more than ventriloquism; “besides having talking figures,” he gave “wonderful imitations of birds, animals, etc.

Wheaton student Vaudeville performers, ca. 1904.

Wheaton student Vaudeville performers, ca. 1904.

Did Bryant’s performances of “magic, mirth and mystery” inspire Wheaton students to create their own annual Vaudeville (later Vodvil) shows?  We’ll probably never know, especially as Rushlight fails to report on Bryant's “lecture”.

Comments are closed.