Senor Wences, the master ventriloquist who delighted generations of audiences with his painted-hand puppet, Johnny, and his boxed puppet Pedro, died Tuesday on his one hundred and third birthday.
The Spanish-born Wences, whose real name was Wenceslao Moreno, died at his home in New York City. He achieved fame for his numerous appearances on TV's "Ed Sullivan Show" and touring with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. He appeared in a 1963 Broadway vaudeville evening with Danny Kaye at the Ziegfeld Theater and continued to work even in 1986, when he toured in Sugar Babies with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller.
For the simplicity of his puppets, Wences was an extremely talented ventriloquist, with the ability to smoke, drink and eat while not allowing his lips to move. One of his more famous tricks was to smoke a cigarette and have Johnny blow the smoke rings. Wences created Johnny by scrunching up his fist and drawing a face on it, a trick still replicated by children today. Sporting a falsettoed voice, Johnny's trademark line was, "Deefeecult for you, easy for me."
The gravelly-voiced Pedro, ``S'okay?'' ``S'awright!'', was born out of necessity when Wences' regular dummy was damaged on the way to a show with only the head remaining.
A memorial service and burial will be held in Spain this weekend. -- By Sean McGrath