Brief Dummy History
Winchell, like many ventriloquists of the time, got his start in radio. Unfortunately he was up against Edgar Bergen, who had the characters of Charlie McCartney and Mortimer Snerd, so his show didn’t last too long.
Luckily Winchell managed to get his own TV show, which had various names through its run in the 50s. At first it was just Winchell and Mahoney, but Mahoney would constantly mention a character named Knucklehead Smiff. When fan demand to actually see Knucklehead Smiff got too big to ignore, Winchell had no choice but to have a Knucklehead Smiff doll made.
Where Jerry Mahoney was typically dressed in a suit and nice clothing, Knucklehead Smiff wore a jacket and jeans. His head was actually built as a modification of the Jerry Mahoney head, but with the hair shaved down and a few other tweaks made.
Winchell would often have actors put their hands through the Mahoney and Smiff dolls’ sleeves so they could gesture to each other while talking. This made them very unique compared to most contemporary wire-controlled ventriloquist dolls on TV at the time.
In the 1950s Paul Winchell worked with the Juro Novelty company to produce Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff dolls. As Mahoney was the more popular character, Mahoney dolls outsold Knucklehead Smiff dolls 7-1.
In the 1960s, Winchell decided he could make more accurate dolls himself and ended his work with Juro. He started producing the dolls himself, and again the Mahoney dolls were in much higher demand than the Knucklhead Smiff dolls. There are no Jerry Mahoney or Knucklehead Smiff dolls in production today. I’ve only found one private Jerry Mahoney doll maker on eBay.
Since the Knucklehead Smiff dolls were less popular than the Jerry Mahoney ones at the time of release, they’re also a lot rarer. This means that today the Knucklehead Smiff ventriloquist dolls are much sought-after collector’s items that can be hard to come by.
Both are good quality dolls and highly in demand. They’re particularly desirable as a couple with the matching Jerry Mahoney doll, either the 1950s Juro or 1966 Winchell variant. Either version is a simple ventriloquist doll with a single pull-string at the back of the head to operate the dummy.
Due to the age and rarity of the figures, a Knucklehead Smiff doll in good condition will obviously be a bit more expensive than a new doll, or even a matching Jerry Mahoney doll. They’re also probably best left as collectors’ items these days rather than actual usable dolls, so don’t go grabbing one for your nephew’s birthday.
If you’re a die-hard collector of vintage ventriloquist dolls, classic ventriloquist dummies, or just Winchell and his crew, the Knucklhead Smiff doll is a must-have.