If you have ever endured a grade school talent show, it might be hard to believe that amateur competitions and “talent” showcases have been honey for the masses since the dawn of civilization.
Long before America’s Got Talent and the inexplicably popular Little Big Shots captured the hearts and Nielsen ratings of audiences throughout the world, the ancient Greeks were hosting open singing competitions at Panhellenic festivals, amateur equestrian shows, drama festivals, and a rather ho-hum competition of physical talents and skills known as the Olympics.
And before Original Amateur Hour hit the radio airwaves in 1934 or the Popsicle Twins stunned America on The Gong Show in ’78, talent shows took place in churches, town halls, and village squares—virtually anyplace where folks could set up chairs, kick back, and gladly suffer through Grandmama’s caterwauling, tuba concertos, baton twirling, and the comedy stylings of that creepy guy who always stared at Aunt Bertha.
Most likely, many of those talent shows featured ventriloquists—a word of Latin derivation that literally means to “speak from the stomach.” The Greeks called it “gastromancy” – but no matter what you call it, ventriloquism can be an odd and sometimes unsettling stage act.
So when we ran across a vintage photograph of a young, beautiful ventriloquist performing in a fabulous dress, we knew we had to give it a home.
And find out the story behind the image.
The name of the stylish ventriloquist/gastromancer in this $1 photo is Fay Audra.
Fay was born in Rochester, New York in 1934. Her parents’ names were Clarence and Ruby. A sound engineer and assemblyman, Clarence was employed at the Eastman Kodak Company. The family lived on Saranac Street.
We aren’t sure what year or where this photo was taken. It might have been a talent show. Or maybe Fay spent her summers performing at one of the popular Catskills resorts that attracted so many upper-middle-class families in the 1950s. (I know. The Catskills are a bit of a hike from Rochester—but I like to imagine Fay opening up for Baby and Johnny.)
After graduating from Keuka College Nursing School in 1955, Fay joined the Air Force. Pretty cool, huh? And in 1988, she was engaged to a pilot. How long was Fay in the Air Force? Did she serve overseas? Did she meet her fiancé in the Air Force?
We don’t know.
But we do know that before Fay and her fiancé could get married, he took her for a flight in a twin-seat plane that caught fire and crashed at the Palmyra Airport, about 40 minutes southeast of Rochester. Fay died in that crash. Her fiancé survived. After Fay’s tragic death, her fiancé established a scholarship in her memory that still benefits nursing students today.
We have no idea if Fay was a serious and accomplished ventriloquist or if the performance seen in the photograph was a one-shot deal. Heck—we can’t even be 100% positive that the girl in this photograph IS Fay (though from other labeled photos in the same box , we are pretty darn sure.) But maybe it doesn’t really matter. This photograph, that amazing dress, and the fabulous interplay between the girl and her ventriloquist dummy, brought us to Fay and her story.
We did not interview or contact Fay’s family or her fiance’s family. All of the information included in this post was found in public online records and archived newspaper articles. To avoid seeming SUPER creepy, Fay’s last name is not included in this post.