Our Inductees: Senor Wences

Biography

Senor Wences was the 22nd inductee into the Offical National Comedy Hall of Fame®. Wenceslao Moreno better known as Señor Wences, was a Spanish ventriloquist.

His popularity grew with his frequent appearances on CBS-TV’s The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1950s and 1960s. Performing under the stage name “Señor Wences”, Moreno was known for his speed, skill, and grace as a ventriloquist. His stable of characters included Johnny, a childlike face drawn on his hand, placed atop an otherwise headless doll, with whom the ventrilloquist conversed while switching voices between Johnny’s falsetto and his own voice with great speed. He opened his act by drawing Johnny’s face on his hand, on stage. He would first place 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 Señor Wences character was the gruff-voiced Pedro, a disembodied head in a box. Pedro would either “speak” from within the closed box, or speak with moving lips – simply growling, “s’awright” (“it’s all right”) – when the performer opened the box’s front panel with his free hand. A large part of the entertainer’s 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 his act involved throwing his voice while his mouth was otherwise engaged (i.e. smoking or drinking.) Another favorite prop was a telephone, with the ventriloquist 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?” – using Señor Wences’ true surname. He would respond “No, Moreno is not here.” He usually built to a big finish that combined ventriloquism with juggling and plate-spinning. As he performed his routines, Pedro and Johnny heckled him.

Although he was an international favorite for decades, his main career was made in the United States, where he appeared regularly on TV variety shows, including frequent appearances on CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show, where he was a guest 48 times, on Broadway, in Las Vegas casino theaters and in feature films.Much later in his career he was introduced to a new generation of fans on The Muppet Show. His last TV appearance was on The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show #2, a retrospective in which the nonagenarian talked about “Suliban” and performed a brief spot of ventriloquism.

One of Wences’s trademark bits of shtick was that at the conclusion of the dialogue, he would open the lid of the box and ask “S’aright?” (“It’s all right?”) and the box voice would answer “S’ariiight!”

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