National Museum of American History Receives “Bob,” Ventriloquist Figure From TV Show “Soap”

May 15, 2007

At a special ceremony in New York City today, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History acquired “Bob,” the irreverent sidekick of master ventriloquist Jay Johnson. Created for the landmark television show “Soap,” which premiered on ABC in 1977, “Bob” will join the museum’s collections chronicling the evolution of sitcom programs.

“Bob is a culturally important addition to the National Museum of American History’s collection, as trendsetter in TV comedy of the 1970s and a pioneer in showcasing the accessibility of ventriloquism and puppets on television,” said Dwight Blocker Bowers, museum curator.

The comedy “Soap” broke many barriers and confronted controversial issues when it debuted and ultimately changed the landscape of sitcom programming. Johnson performed for four years on the show, with “Bob” always by his side. Johnson recently starred with “Bob” and 10 fellow characters in the Broadway show “The Two and Only,” which received a 2007 Tony Award nomination in the category of Special Theatrical event.

Johnson developed his ability for ventriloquism from the age of 11 and moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s to pursue a career in entertainment. In addition to being a ventriloquist, Johnson also works as a writer, comic, cartoonist, poet and puppeteer.

The 30-year-old wooden figure of “Bob” is 3 feet tall with apple cheeks, large eyes and brown hair. “Like most celebrities, Bob has had some ‘work done’ over the years, but with puppets you don’t nip and tuck, you carve and sand,” said Johnson.

During the past 30 years, Johnson has brought “Bob” to life with a distinctive personality and voice. He has traveled the world with “Bob” and the duo is best remembered for the schizophrenic ventriloquist act “Chuck and Bob” on the comedy “Soap.” Their other performances include appearances on “The Tonight Show,” “Who’s Who,” and “So You Think You’ve Got Problems,” as well as 30 commercials and three television series.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is closed for major renovations and will re-open in summer 2008. For more information about the museum, the public may visit http://americanhistory.si.edu or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000 or (202) 633-5285 (TTY).