Paul Winchell (December 21, 1922 – June 24, 2005) was an American ventriloquist, voice actor, comedian, inventor, and humanitarian, whose entertainment career flourished in the 1950s and 1960s.
From 1950-1954, he hosted The Paul Winchell Show, which also used two other titles during its prime time run on NBC, The Speidel Show and What's My Name? From 1965-1968, Winchell hosted the children's television series, Winchell-Mahoney Time.
Winchell also made guest appearances on Emmy Award winning television series from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s such as Perry Mason, The Dick Van Dyke Show, McMillan & Wife, The Donna Reed Show and two appearances as Homer Winch on The Beverly Hillbillies in 1962.
Winchell, who had medical training, was also an inventor, becoming the first person to build and patent a mechanical artificial heart, implantable in the chest cavity (US Patent #3097366). He has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in television.
He is also widely known for his voice acting career, having originated the roles of Tigger, Dick Dastardly, Gargamel and other characters.
Winchell was not related to radio commentator and gossip columnist Walter Winchell, whose real last name was Winschel.
Winchell was born in New York City, New York to Solomon Wilchinsky and Clara Fuchs. His father was a tailor; his grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Austria-Hungary. Winchell's initial ambition was to become a doctor, but the Depression wiped out any chance of his family's ability to afford medical school tuition. At age 13, he contracted polio; while recovering, he happened upon a magazine advertisement offering a ventriloquism kit for ten cents. Back at school, he asked his art teacher, Jerry Magon, if he could receive class credit for creating a ventriloquist's dummy. Mr. Magon was agreeable, and Winchell named his creation Jerry Mahoney, by way of thanks. Winchell went back to reading magazines, gathering jokes from them and putting together a comedy routine, which he then took to the Major Bowes Amateur Hour in 1938, winning first prize. A touring offer, playing various theaters with the Major Bowes Review, was part of the prize. Bandleader Ted Weems saw the young Winchell while on tour; he visited Winchell and made him an offer of employment. Winchell accepted and became a professional at age 14.
Winchell's best-known ventriloquist dummies were Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. Mahoney was carved by Chicago-based figure maker Frank Marshall. Sometime later Winchell had basswood copies of Jerry's head made by a commercial duplicating service. One became the upgraded Jerry Mahoney that is seen primarily throughout Winchell's television career. The television versions of Jerry and Knucklehead also featured Winchell's innovation of actors slipping their hands into the sleeves of the dummies, giving the visual effect of gesturing with their hands while "conversing" with each other, perhaps providing the uncredited precursor for the Muppets. He modified two other copies to create Knucklehead Smiff. The original Marshall Jerry Mahoney and one copy of Knucklehead Smiff are in storage at the Smithsonian Institution. The other two figures are in the collection of illusionist David Copperfield.
Winchell's first show as a ventriloquist was on radio with Jerry Mahoney in 1943. The program was short-lived, however, as he was overshadowed by Edgar Bergen. Winchell also created Oswald, a character that resembled Humpty Dumpty. The effect was accomplished by painting eyes and a nose on his chin, then adding a "body" covering the rest of his face, and finally electronically turning the camera image upside down. In 1961, Berwin Novelties introduced a home version of the character that included an Oswald body, creative pencils to draw the eyes and nose and a "magic mirror" that automatically turned a reflection upside down.
During the 1950s, Winchell hosted children's and adult programs with his figures for NBC Television, and later for syndication. The NBC Saturday morning program, sponsored by Tootsie Roll, featured a clubhouse motif and a theme song co-written by Winchell and his longtime bandleader and on-air sidekick, Milton DeLugg. On one episode, The Three Stooges appeared on the show to promote their joint feature film venture, Stop, Look, and Laugh, in late 1959. He made an appearance on Nanny and the Professor () as a "mean old man" (a puppeteer who had retired into seclusion after losing his wife in an accident). In 1996, Winchell contracted with figure maker Tim Selberg to construct a more contemporary version of Jerry Mahoney, which Winch described as "Disney-esque". Winchell used the new figure version to pitch a new tv series idea to Michael Eisner. In 2009 Winchell was featured in the comedy documentary I'm No Dummy, directed by Bryan W. Simon.
His first voice over role was "Pig-Pen" in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in 1966. Winchell's career after 1968, included a great deal of voice acting for animated television series, most notably for Disney and Hanna-Barbera. For the latter, he played the character Dick Dastardly in multiple series (notably Wacky Races and Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines); Clyde and Softy on Wacky Races and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop; and Fleegle on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, and Gargamel on The Smurfs. He also provided the voice of Bubi Bear in Help!... It's the Hair Bear Bunch! in 1971, the voice of Revs on Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, as Moe on The Robonic Stooges (a role he previously played on The New Scooby Doo Movies), and Shake on The CB Bears. In 1973, he did the voice of Goober the Dog on the H-B show Goober and the Ghost Chasers and also guest starred as the rain-making villain on an episode of Hong Kong Phooey.
For Disney, Winchell was best known for voicing the character Tigger in Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh films, and won a Grammy Award for his performance in Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. Beginning with the television series The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, he alternated in the role with Jim Cummings, the current voice of Pooh. Winchell's final performance as Tigger was in 1999 in Winnie the Pooh: A Valentine for You (though Winchell played Tigger one more time in the attraction The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh featured in the Disney theme parks). Following his retirement, Cummings permanently took over the role of Tigger starting with Sing a Song with Pooh Bear in 1999 (though some of Winchell's vocals from previous Pooh animations were included). Other Disney roles included parts in The Aristocats as a Siamese cat named Shun Gon, and The Fox and the Hound as Boomer the woodpecker. He was also the original voice of Zummi Gummi on the TV series Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears for seasons 1-5; Jim Cummings took over for the final season in 1990.
Winchell provided the voices of Sam-I-Am and the unnamed character Sam pesters in Green Eggs and Ham from the animated television special Dr. Seuss on the Loose in 1973. He played Fleabag on The Oddball Couple, Fearless Freddy the Shark Hunter on the Pink Panther spin-off Misterjaw in 1976, as well as a number of one-shot characters in The Blue Racer series. In commercials, he voiced the character of Burger Chef for the fast food chain of the same name, the Scrubbing Bubbles for Dow Chemicals and Mr. Owl for Tootsie Roll Pops.
From 1981-1989, the talented voice actor performed one of his most notable roles; that of Gargamel on The Smurfs as well as on several Smurfs television movies. During the 1980s, he was called upon by Hanna-Barbera to reprise his role of Dick Dastardly on Yogi's Treasure Hunt (which was a tour-de-force featuring all of H-B characters) and later on Wake, Rattle and Roll (which was a Wacky Races spin-off). Also on the animated movie Yogi Bear and the Magical Flight of the Spruce Goose, he did the voice of the Dread Baron, who was previously voiced by John Stephenson on the Laugh-a-Lympics. The evil character is incredibly similar to Dastardly, including having a canine henchman Mumbly, voiced by Don Messick (Muttley's voice).
Live appearance work
Winchell (often with Jerry Mahoney) was a frequent guest panelist on What's My Line? in 1956. Other work included on-camera guest appearances on such series as The Polly Bergen Show, as Homer Winch on The Beverly Hillbillies, The Virginian, The Lucy Show, The Donna Reed Show, Claude Wilbur on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dan Raven, and The Brady Bunch, as well as a 1960 movie that included a compilation of Three Stooges shorts (Stop!, Look and Laugh), and a part in the Jerry Lewis movie Which Way to the Front?. Winchell appeared as himself in 1963 in the NBC game show Your First Impression. He appeared in the late 1960s in a gag on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in as a French ventriloquist named Lucky Pierre, who has the misfortune of having his elderly dummy die of a heart attack in the middle of his act. On Love, American Style, he appeared with fellow ventriloquist Shari Lewis in a sketch about two shy people in a waiting room who choose to introduce themselves to each other through their dummies.
Winchell's most successful TV show was Winchell-Mahoney Time (1965–1968), a children's show written by his then wife, actress Nina Russel. Winchell played several onscreen characters, including Knucklehead Smiff's father, Bonehead Smiff. He also played himself as friend and adult advisor to Mahoney and Smiff. He also created "Mr. Goody-good," a surreal character, by painting eyes and a nose on his chin, covering his face with a small costume, then having the camera image inverted. The resulting pinheaded character seemed to have an immensely wide mouth and a highly mobile head. Winchell created this illusion by moving his chin back and forth. The show was produced at KTTV in Los Angeles, which was owned by Metromedia. In 1986, Winchell sued Metromedia – which at the time was about to be purchased by Fox Television Stations as the foundation for the new Fox Network – over syndication rights to 288 surviving videotapes of the show. Metromedia responded by destroying the tapes. Subsequently, a jury awarded Winchell $17.8 million.
Winchell's last regular on-camera TV appearances working with his puppets were Storybook Squares, a children's version of the adult celebrity game show Hollywood Squares which was seen Saturday mornings on NBC during the 1969 TV season, and Runaround, another children's TV game show seen Saturday mornings on NBC from September 1972 to September 1973.
Medical and patents
Winchell was interested in medicine and was a pre-med student at Columbia University. He graduated from The Acupuncture Research College of Los Angeles in 1974, and became an acupuncturist. He also worked as a medical hypnotist at the Gibbs Institute in Hollywood. Winchell developed over 30 patents in his lifetime. He invented an artificial heart with the assistance of Dr. Henry Heimlich, the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver, and held the first patent for such a device. The University of Utah developed a similar apparatus around the same time, but when they tried to patent it, Winchell's heart was cited as prior art. The university requested that Winchell donate the heart to the University of Utah, which he did.
There is some debate as to how much of Winchell's design Dr. Robert Jarvik used in creating Jarvik's artificial heart. Dr. Heimlich states, "I saw the heart, I saw the patent and I saw the letters. The basic principle used in Winchell's heart and Jarvik's heart is exactly the same." Jarvik denies that any of Winchell's design elements were incorporated into the device he fabricated for humans — the Jarvik-7, which was successfully implanted into Barney Clark in 1982.
Winchell established more medical patents while working on projects for the Leukemia Society (now known as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) and the American Red Cross. Some of the other devices he invented and patented include a disposable razor, a blood plasma defroster, a flameless cigarette lighter, an "invisible" garter belt, a fountain pen with a retractable tip, and battery-heated gloves.
In the 1980s Winchell, concerned about the starvation in Africa, developed a method to cultivate tilapia fish in tribal villages and small communities. The fish thrives in brackish waters, which made it particularly well suited for sub-Saharan Africa. Winchell appeared before a Congressional Committee with several other celebrities, including actors Richard Dreyfuss and Ed Asner, and Dr. Henry Heimlich. The Committee declined to finance a pilot program for the tilapia aquaculture project (in Africa) because it required digging a well into non-potable water, which the Committee deemed to be inadvisable.
Family and hobbies
Winchell had three children: a son, Stacy Paul Winchell; a daughter, Stephanie, from his first marriage to Dorothy (Dottie) Movitz; and a daughter, April Winchell (the current voice of Clarabelle Cow), who is a comedienne and voice actress, from his second marriage to actress Nina Russel. His third wife was the former Jean Freeman. Winchell's autobiography, Winch (2004), exposed many dark areas of Winchell's life, which had hitherto been kept private, including early stories of an abused childhood, a long history of depression and at least one mental breakdown and a short stint in an institution. The autobiography opened old wounds within the Winchell family, prompting daughter April to publicly defend her mother who was negatively portrayed in the book. Winchell was estranged from his children, and thus they were not immediately notified of his death. A message on April's website stated:
I got a phone call a few minutes ago, telling me that my father passed away yesterday. A source close to my dad, or at least, closer than I was, decided to tell me himself, instead of letting me find out on the news, which I appreciate. Apparently a decision had been made not to tell me, or my father's other children. My father was a very troubled and unhappy man. If there is another place after this one, it is my hope that he now has the peace that eluded him on earth.
Winchell was interested and involved in technology right up to the time of his death. He created and maintained a personal website until 2004. For a short time, he operated the now-defunct website ProtectGod.com, which discussed the theology of the latter years of his life.
Winchell died of natural causes on June 24, 2005, at his Los Angeles California home, only one day before his friend John Fiedler, the original voice of Piglet in Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh productions, died of cancer. Paul was survived by his wife, daughter April, his other children, and three grandchildren. His body was cremated and his ashes remained on his home property.
|1960||Stop!, Look and Laugh||Himself - The Ventriloquist||Live-Action|
|1970||The Aristocats||Shun Gon|
|Which Way to the Front?||Schroeder||Live-Action|
|1977||The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh||Tigger|
|1981||The Fox and the Hound||Boomer|
|1997||Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin||Tigger||Direct-to-Video|
|1999||Seasons of Giving||Tigger||Direct-To-Video; Archive Footage|
|1950-1954||The Paul Winchell Show||Host, Jerry Mahoney||Live-Action|
|1956-1957||What's My Line?||Himself - Panelist|
|1962-1963||The Beverly Hillbillies||Homer Winch||Live-Action|
|1963||77 Sunset Strip||Skeets Riley||Live-Action, "Falling Stars"|
|1964||Perry Mason||Henry Clement||Live-Action, "The Case of the Nervous Neighbor"|
|1966||The Dick Van Dyke Show||Claude Wilbur||Live-Action, "Talk to the Snail"|
|The Lucy Show||Himself/Doc Putman||Live-Action, "Lucy and Paul Winchell"|
|The Virginian||Jingo||Live-Action, "Dark Corridor"|
|1968-1969||Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In||Lucky Pierre||Live-Action|
|1968-1970||Wacky Races||Dick Dastardly, Clyde, Private Meekly, Sawtooth|
|The Banana Splits||Fleegle Beagle|
|1969||The Flying Nun||Claudio||Live-Action, "My Sister the Star"|
|1969-1971||Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines||Dick Dastardly, The General, Additional voices|
|The Perils of Penelope Pitstop||Clyde, Softy, Additional voices|
|1971||The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show||Rockhead, Father||"Mayor May Not"|
|The Brady Bunch||Skip Farnum||Live-Action, "And Now, a Word from Our Sponsor"|
|1971-1972||Help!... It's the Hair Bear Bunch!||Bubi Bear, Furface the Lion, Slicks the Fox, Tiptoes the Ostrich, Gabby the Parrot, Specs the Mole, Pipsqueak the Mouse, Additional voices||He did the voice of Slicks in the first episode from then on he was voiced by Daws Butler, who also voiced Furface in some episodes. Also, Winchell did the voice of Pipsqueak in "Bridal Boo Boo" while in "Love Bug Bungle", the character was voiced by Janet Waldo.|
|1973||Dr. Seuss on the Loose||Sam-I-Am, Grouchy Guy, Sneetches||TV Short|
|1973-1975||Goober and the Ghost Chasers||Goober, Additional voices|
|1974||Hong Kong Phooey||Mr. Shrink, The Mayor||"Dr. Disguiso & The Incredible Mr. Shrink"|
|1974-1975||Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch||Revs, Captain Tough, Mailman, Lifeguard|
|1975||The Tiny Tree||Turtle||TV Short|
|The Oddball Couple||Fleabag|
|1976-1977||Misterjaw||Fearless Freddy the Shark Hunter|
|Clue Club||Woofer, Additional voices|
|1977||CB Bears||Shake||Shake, Rattle, & Roll segment|
|1977-1978||The Robonic Stooges||Moe, The Amazing Bordoni, Professor Octane, Blob Leader|
|Fred Flintstone and Friends||Goober, Additional Voices|
|1979||The Super Globetrotters||Bad Blue Bart, The Phantom Cowboy|
|1980-1982||Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo||Additional voices|
|Heathcliff||Marmaduke, Phil Winslow, Additional voices|
|The Flintstones: Wind-Up Wilma||Umpire, Thief, Reporter||TV Film|
|1982||Spider-Man||Silvermane||"Wrath of the Sub-Mariner"|
|1982-1983||Meatballs & Spaghetti||Additional voices|
|1984-1988||Yogi's Treasure Hunt||Dick Dastardly, Additional voices|
|1985||The Jetsons||Dr. Input||"S'No Relative"|
|1985-1990||Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears||Zummi Gummi|
|1986||The Kingdom Chums: Little David's Adventure||King Saul||TV Film|
|1987||Yogi Bear and the Magical Flight of the Spruce Goose||The Dread Baron||TV Film|
|1988-1990; 1991||The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh||Tigger, Additional voices||He left the series in Season 3, however returned in the final episodes.|
|1990-1991||Wake, Rattle and Roll||Dick Dastardly|
|1991||Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too||Tigger||TV short|
|1991-1994||Garfield and Friends||Additional voices||Joined the cast in Season 4|
|1993||Droopy, Master Detective||Rumpley's Dad||"A Chip off the old Block Head"|
|1998||A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving||Tigger||TV Film|
|1999||A Valentine for You||Tigger||TV Film|
- at the Internet Movie Database
- at Find a Grave