Jimmy Nelson (born December 15, 1928) is an American ventriloquist who appeared on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He is most famous for commercials for Nestlé chocolate featuring Farfel the Dog. He also hosted a children's show sponsored by Nestlé.
Jimmy Nelson was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 15, 1928. When he was ten years old, his aunt won a toy ventriloquist's dummy named "Dummy Dan" in a Bingo game and gave it to her nephew for Christmas. He learned ventriloquism, and a year later, his father upgraded the dummy's mouth control from a simple string-and-loop to a lever-system like those used in professional ventriloquist's dummies.
Nelson began taking "Dan" to school, where his fourth-grade teacher allowed him to use the dummy when speaking in front of the class. In this way, Nelson taught himself to overcome his fear of public speaking. He soon started using jokes in his presentation, discovering he could make his classmates laugh.
He then started performing for church groups, schools and American Legion posts. By the time he was a teenager, he started earning money competing in amateur talent contests held at the local movie theatres, where the prize was five dollars for the most popular act.
In 1945, Nelson asked famed Chicago ventriloquist figure maker Frank Marshall to make him a professional-quality dummy. Marshall, who had made Edgar Bergen's Charlie McCarthy and Paul Winchell's Jerry Mahoney, would only do this after seeing the ventriloquist's work. He came to one of Nelson's theatre performances and was impressed, so sold Nelson a custom-made dummy, which he always carved to bear a resemblance to the ventriloquist.
Nelson gave Dummy Dan's replacement the full name Danny O'Day, which he chose because it contained none of the consonants impossible for ventriloquists to say without moving the lips, unlike "McCarthy" and "Mahoney". He then hired a manager and started touring professionally.
By 1947, Nelson was a professional success and Danny O'Day began to show signs of wear, so Nelson hired Marshall to build him a second one. However, Marshall's hand-carved originals (which he tailored to the personality of the ventriloquist) were impossible to duplicate identically, and Nelson felt the second dummy didn't look sufficiently like Danny to replace him. So he decided to maintain Danny, and added heavy eyebrows, eyeglasses and a beret to the new dummy, creating a foil for Danny named Humphrey Higsbye.
In September 1950, Nelson made his first appearance with Danny on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In the late 1950s, Jimmy Nelson released two LP records, One being "Pinocchio", which involved his four major dummies, which was released on Cricket Records in 1959, and the other being "Jokes and Riddles", which was done before a live audience of children, released on Rocking Horse Records.
Farfel the dog
One night that year, while working a late show in a Wichita, Kansas nightclub, he picked up a stuffed dog a patron had left on the piano, and improvised a low-pitched voice to make it talk. This gave him the idea for a new character which he had Marshall build. He named it Farfel, after the Jewish pasta dish he had seen on the menu of the Borscht Belt resorts in upstate New York where he performed. His famous line was : "No, I wouldn't sat that"
In 1950, Nelson was hired as a regular on the Texaco Star Theatre TV show hosted by Milton Berle. Nelson and Danny O'Day would appear in Texaco gas jockey uniforms.
At one point, he added another animal dummy to his character repertoire, a cat named Ftatateeta after a character in George Bernard Shaw's play Caesar and Cleopatra. His voice was based on Ed Wynn's.
In 1955, the Nestlé company hired Nelson to do commercials selling their chocolate candy and Nestlé's Quik chocolate milk flavoring. The Nestlé executives had him audition by spontaneously performing their newly written jingle. Nelson sang the first two (musical) lines in Danny's voice:
- Nestlé's makes the very best...
He finished with Farfel slowly singing the last word "chocolate", in two syllables. Nelson was so nervous that his hands sweated, and when Farfel was finished, his finger slipped off the control, causing the mouth to audibly snap shut, a mistake no ventriloquist should make. Nelson left the audition thinking he had blown it, but was surprised to learn he was hired; in fact, the executives actually liked the mouth-snapping effect and asked that he keep it. This became his trademark as the commercials ran for ten years.
When advertising Nestlé's Quik, Danny O'Day would say it "makes milk taste...like a million" (dollars), again slowly and pausing for effect.
In 2009 Nelson was featured in the ventriloquist comedy documentary I'm No Dummy, directed by Bryan W. Simon.
Nelson and his wife Betty have been residents of Cape Coral, Florida since the 1960s. He appeared with Danny and Farfel at local schools and was a long time spokesperson for First Federal Savings and Loan of Fort Myers.
Nelson was dubbed as "The Dean of American Ventriloquists" in 2011.
Nelson collaborated in 2011 with maker of professional ventriloquist figures Tim Selberg to produce a character that pays homage to his Danny O'Day.
Nelson and Margot's three boys were twins, Larry and Lee, and Jerry. They lived for many years in Forest Hills, NY and later in Jamaica, NY.
In 1956, Nelson married Betty Norman, a night club singer with whom he worked and had the remainder of his three children with.