I received a couple of comments about my statement on the mystery movie “History Is Made at Night” regarding the appearance (or non-appearance) of ventriloquist Senor Wences – or at least the appearance/non-appearance of his left hand.
So I thought I would take a break from my sabbatical to dig into it.
Senor Wences is listed way down in the imdb entry on “History Is Made at Night” as an uncredited performer.
For comparison, here is Senor Wences and “Johnny” from the cover of the album “Deefeecult for You – Easy for Me.” (And yes, a recording of a ventriloquist is a bit like listening to one the radio, but Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy made it work.
The sequence in question begins at the 14:46 minute mark in a scene between Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer) and Irene Vail (Jean Arthur).
Dumond tells Vail that he lives with a woman and asks if she would like to meet her.
Insert to Dumond drawing a face on his hand.
Dumond: May I present the woman I live with … Coco.
Coco and Vail get acquainted.
Coco: Parlez-Vous Francais?
Dumond: Speak English.
Coco: I hate men, don’t you?
Coco: Then why did you get married?
Coco: What made your husband do that to you tonight?
Vail: Coco, ask him to ask me to dance.
Coco: Ask her to dance, stupid.
The death of Coco: Dumond wipes his hand with the napkin that was Coco’s scarf.
OK, let’s compare. On the left, Coco in “History Is Made at Night.” On the right, Senor Wences and Johnny.
Not too encouraging.
And except for a few inserts, there is no way for anybody to double shots like this.
The only shot that might be a double is this insert. In the other shots, Boyer is wearing a wrist watch, but it’s not visible here.
So much for the internal evidence. Let’s take our research to the next level: Where was Senor (or Signor) Wences during the filming of “History Is Made at Night?”
In later years, Senor Wences was familiar to TV audiences from his 50 appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” but in the 1930s, when “History Is Made at Night” was filmed, he was much more obscure.
As nearly as I can determine, “History Is Made at Night” was filmed in late 1936. Motion Picture Daily reported Oct. 30, 1936, that “History Is Made at Night” would start production Nov. 2, 1936.
The earliest mention of Senor Wences that I can find in U.S. papers is a Nov. 10, 1934, item in the New York Times’ Night Club Notes, in which he is identified as a juggler and ventriloquist. His first mention in the Los Angeles Times is Oct. 12, 1940, and his next mention in the New York Times is July 11, 1941.
According to Variety, Senor Wences was in Chicago in August 1936, and in June 1937, “Signor” Wences was in London. It’s unclear where he was between those dates, but there is nothing to indicate he was in Los Angeles.
Finding: Based on internal and external evidence, there is every reason to believe Charles Boyer did all of the Coco sequence and that Senor Wences was not involved, regardless of what it says in imdb or any books that may have relied on imdb.
All of this might seem like overkill on a trivial point, but there is another lesson: Be careful of what you find in Internet resources. Do your own research.
Johnny might say: “Deefeecult for you, easy for me,” but the truth is that anybody can do this kind of digging if they have the patience and determination.