Pulling Some Strings

A surprising look at the people behind their puppets

Goffman and Goffman

At his wedding a few years ago, Mark Goffman 90C was blown away when his normally very shy mother-in-law delivered a funny, moving toast . . . using a white glove as a sock puppet.

Later, she told him and his new wife, Lindsay, about her budding interest in ventriloquism and her plans to attend the Vent Haven ConVENTion in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky—the ultimate annual gathering for this eccentric performance art. “That was our inspiration,” says Goffman, a TV writer who’s now executive producer for the hit show White Collar. “We knew we had to go to the convention and see what it was all about.” 

The resulting documentary, Dumbstruck, follows five ventriloquists through a year of highs and lows as they struggle to practice their craft—once solidly popular, but now a little faded in mainstream American consciousness. The big surprise was Terry Fator, a “vent” enthusiast who had been trying to make a go of it for two decades while painting houses and mowing lawns to pay the bills. As Goffman’s team filmed from the sidelines, Fator won a million dollars on America’s Got Talent, then wound up signing the biggest entertainment deal in Las Vegas history to headline at the Mirage hotel and casino.

“We really caught lightning in a bottle with this film,” says Goffman, who wrote and directed Dumbstruck and coproduced it with his wife, Lindsay Goffman. “It was a most unusual year in a very unusual art form.”

Goffman looked to documentaries like Spellbound and The King of Kong to strike the right tone for Dumbstruck, which opened in theaters around the country this spring.

“There have been films about the art and practice of ventriloquism, but we wanted to know what these people are like and what their lives are like,” he says. “We let their stories unfold and wanted their voices to be heard.”

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