Globe and Mail, January 12, 1970.
So I’m in the middle of research the other night. Browsing the Globe and Mail’s archives, I came across a roundup of what entertained New Year’s revelers as 1969 gave way to 1970. The accompanying photo showed a woman with a large headdress and two faces on her bosoms.
The caption? “Doris Faye and Her Talking Torso: vaudeville revived.”
Globe and Mail, January 1, 1970.
Turned out she was a ventriloquist whose dummy heads were “mounted on her well-clothed breasts.” The type of act one could really appreciate after a few drinks to end the old year.
Naturally I had to share my discovery with my partner-in-crime.
“Hey, how’s this for an act? Doris Faye and Her Talking Torso!”
She thought about this mind-blowing concept for a second.
“Sounds like a drag queen.”
Globe and Mail, November 3, 1969.
This wasn’t a bad guess, as the Blue Orchid (the present-day Lee’s Palace) had recently featured the “Jewel Box Revue” of female impersonators.
Ms. Faye and her babbling bosoms required deeper digging.
Binghampton Press, February 28, 1945.
It appears Ms. Faye (born, according to a copyright notice, as Doris Firkser) began her ventriloquism career toward the end of the Second World War. The Paterson, New Jersey Morning Call praised her talent when she participated in a vaudeville style bill in October 1945:
Doris Faye, meeting her dummy boy friend offers an example of ventriloquism at its best. Not only does this gal give off with light-hearted dialogue, but she sizzles with a dramatic thunderbolt in a scene from the movie Gaslight.
Toronto Star, May 9, 1947.
While it’s hard to say for sure, since the ad doesn’t specify her talents other than “just patter,” it looks like Ms. Faye may have performed in Toronto as early as the late 1940s. It definitely appears that by the end of that decade she was touring nightclubs and theatres when she wasn’t performing in New York City.
Bronxville Review Press-Reporter, July 14, 1960. Would the photo used in the ad at the top of this post have been taken during this photo session?
By the late 1950s, Faye was appearing as a ventriloquist on children’s television shows in the Big Apple, including a brief stint co-hosting the long-running series Wonderama. She moved on with her co-host Bill Britten when he became New York’s Bozo the Clown, appearing in Indian maiden garb as “Princess Ticklefeather” through the early 1960s.
Around 1967 Faye and her husband, multilingual tenor Nino Tello, toured with a vaudeville-style show running under names like Fun City Revue and Fun City Varieties. The Pittsburgh Press described their acts:
Miss Faye sings, chatters, turns in an interesting ventriloquism act with her pal “Tyrone” and is well steeped in show business. She keeps moving along at a merry pace. Nino Tello contributes a number of songs in both Italian and English with plenty of gusto. His repertoire runs the gamut from today’s hits and show tunes to the familiar classics. Nino and Faye wrap up a couple of duets and join in the production numbers as well.
Globe and Mail, December 29, 1969.
By the time the revue reached Toronto in December 1969, it was known as Funs-A-Poppin’, playing off the 1940s Olsen and Johnson hit Broadway revue and film Hellzapoppin’. It fit nicely into a general revival of old-timey entertainment in the city and across North America, when traditional burlesque acts took stages and honky tonk pianists found roosts in local bars. This also fit into a growing trend of testing restrictions surrounding the degree of raunchiness and nudity allowed in public venues. During Faye’s stint in town, police kept their eye on the Royal Alex as previews began for the Toronto production of Hair.
Desert Sun, February 15, 1974.
A 1974 feature in the Palm Springs Desert Sun summed up how the Talking Torso fit into changes in societal attitudes:
Her body, known as the “Talking Torso,” is not only eye-appealing and unique, but hilariously funny and clever. The “Talking Torso” is an intended comedy spoof, satire, and commentary on society’s present-day sexual attitudes toward the female body, which has been made to do everything but talk.
Faye and Tello (sometimes billed as “America’s Night Club Caruso”) continued to perform into the 21st century. The latest I traced her was a 2009 blog post discussing her determination to continue performing after hip surgery, where you get the sense that she was somebody who loved entertaining others. According to a ventriloquist website, Faye passed away in 2012.
Sources: the February 15, 1974 edition of the Desert Sun; the October 16, 1945 edition of the Morning Call; and the October 10, 1967 edition of the Pittsburgh Press.