Paul Winchell was an American entertainer, comedian and inventor. He was born in 1922 in New York. As a child, he was very shy and used to stutter, which made him even more shy and retiring. He was a great admirer of ventriloquist Edgar Bergman who performed with his dummy named Charlie McCarthy and tried to emulate his performance using a dummy of his own. Winchell mastered this art and started to put on entertaining shows for his friends and classmates, which made him quite popular. His principal enrolled him for a talent show on the radio program “Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour” in 1936 which he won. After this, he joined the Vaudeville circuit and toured across America, performing various acts across the country.
In 1947, he began to host his own show on NBC called the “Paul Winchell-Jerry Mahoney Show” – Jerry Mahoney was the name of his dummy. In 1949 he made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show as a guest star which was a big breakthrough for him. In 1950 he created another dummy to use in his acts and named him Knucklehead Smiff. This new act was introduced on “The Spiedel Show”. Among the other TV shows he hosted were The Bigelow Show, Circus Time and Winchell Mahoney Time. Winchell’s popularity soared and he had a huge fan following with both children and adults. He was invited to perform on several popular TV shows including The Lucy Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Love, American Style, The Dean Martin Show and Perry Mason.
As animated cartoons became popular in the 1960’s, he started to do character voice-overs for several big companies such as Walt Disney and Hannah Barbera. His repertoire of characters includes the voices of Gargamel (The Smurfs), Boomer (The Fox and the Hound), Dick Dastardly (The Wacky Races) and Tigger (Winnie the Pooh). Winchell won several awards for entertainment, including a Gammy Award in 1986 for his song performance in Winnie the Pooh. The song was titled “The Most Wonderful Thing About Tiggers”. The cartoon itself won an Oscar for “Best Animated Feature”. He also received a magazine award for “Most Versatile Performer” by Look Magazine in 1953. He also published a book on ventriloquism titled “Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit“.
Paul Winchell was attracted to the study of medicine and was enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia university. He later got a qualified as an acupuncturist at The Acupuncture Research College in Los Angeles in 1974 and worked briefly as a medical hypnotist at the Gibbs Institute in Hollywood. A chance meeting with Dr. Henry Heimlich (the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver) led to a long friendship and professional acquaintance. Dr. Heimlich asked Winchell to watch him during surgery which gave Winchell the idea of inventing an artificial heart to keep the blood flow smoothly running during open heart surgeries and other potentially life threatening surgeries. With Heimlich’s help, he designed a prototype of an artificial heart which he later got patented. Winchell later donated his prototype to a group of researchers led by Dr. Robert Jarvik.
Other than inventing the artificial heart, Paul Winchell held 30 others patents for devices such as disposable razors, flameless cigarette lighters and heated gloves. In 1986 he sued the network that produced the “Winchell Mahoney Show” for losing all the recordings of his show. Winchell won the lawsuit and was awarded $18 million. He wrote his autobiography titled “Winch” in 2004 and continued to perform various acts till he died at the age of 82 in 2005.