Monday, January 16, 2017

Frank Meluch of Lorain: America’s "Natural" Ventriloquist

I recently came across this great promotional card on Ebay for a ventriloquist named Frank V. Meluch.

The card was interesting to me; first, because of the great studio photo of the man and his well-dressed, wooden partner; and second, the ventriloquist’s contact information, which included his 320 W. 22nd Street address in Lorain, Ohio.

As you can see from his card, Meluch billed himself as America's "natural" ventriloquist. He must have been pretty good, as the card also stated that no "cover up tricks” were used in his act. He was also quite versatile, as his other entertainment skills included juggling, mimicry, and fancy & trip rope spinning.
So did Mr. Meluch ever hit the big time? I guess it depends on how you look at it.
According to his obituary (he passed away in 2003), he was born in 1916 in United, Pennsylvania and moved to Lorain with his family in 1925.

His obituary noted, "Mr. Meluch served with the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II as a sergeant under General George Patton in Germany. His decorations and citations include the World War II Victory Medal, the EAME Victory Medal with one Bronze Star, Meritorious Unit Award, American Theatre Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
"Mr. Meluch worked at U.S. Steel in Lorain as a brakeman, conductor and engineer of 110 ton diesel engine for over 40 years retiring in 1977.”

His obituary also includes a nice summary of his entertainment career.

It states, "At the age of 20, he was billed as “America’s Only National Ventriloquist” and was known professionally as Don King. During the war, he and his side-kick Jerry DuBerry entertained the troops.
"He later became a magician specializing in illusion and slight-of-hand with coins, cards and ropes. His coin tricks included using silver dollars that many other slight-of-hand artists said were impossible. 
"Other hobbies in his repertoire included juggling, mimicry and rope spinning. He enjoyed performing locally in schools, hospitals, various clubs and nursing homes.”
"A devoted husband and family man, he was someone who guided and inspired. A true man of God, he healed hearts, souls, minds and bodies of everyone he met by sharing gifts of humor and unyielding faith and hope, even during the most challenging times. He believed anything was possible if you worked at it and never gave up."
It sure sounds like he hit the big time to me.
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I did a little research to find out more about Mr. Meluch. The promotional card seems to date from the late 1930s, since that’s when the city directories show him living at the 320 W. 22nd Street address.
Although there isn’t much of an internet footprint left by Mr. Meluch, I did find an article about one of his performances. The February 11, 1950 Sandusky Register included this article below. It reveals that he had several little buddies as part of his act, and that he had recently performed for Bill Veeck of the Cleveland Indians.
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Seniors Sponsor Ventriloquist At Berlin Heights
BERLIN HEIGHTS, Feb. 10 — Don King, frequently billed as Don King, America's Only Natural Ventriloquist will present an interesting and unusual program at the Berlin Height's town hall Wednesday at 8 p. m. The public is invited. 
King has given his program in schools, churches, and different organizations throughout the country. While in the air force he appeared at army camp shows, billed by the USO, special services, and American Red Cross. He also helped promote the sale of war bonds. 
Last year his act was selected to entertain Bill Veeck, president of the Cleveland Indians, at a banquet held in Lorain. King performs with two dummies, Henry and his heartbeat, Orpholin, at the same time. This is considered a rare and unusual accomplishment in ventriloquism. 
As an added feature, another figure, Jerry DuBarry, mysteriously appears during the program to the delight of the audience. 
The program is being sponsored by the senior class of Berlin Heights High School.

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