Larry Crash Dummy Costume Head, 1990s

Larry Crash Dummy Costume Head, 1990s

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In the 1970s, few motorists wore seat belts because of apathy, distrust, or ignorance of the safety benefits. In 1985 the U. S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration partnered with the Ad Council to create television and radio public service announcements that would persuade motorists to buckle up. The Ad Council hired Leo Burnett, a talent company, which recommended the use of humor. Leo Burnett staff writer Jim Ferguson and art director / creative director Joel Machak created Vince and Larry, a pair of crash test dummy characters with personalities and attitudes. For the actual filming, Grant McCune, a special effects designer and a partner at Apogee Productions, worked with Apogee’s in-house costume designer Wanda Watkins to create believable dummy costumes with realistic heads. They examined an actual crash test dummy and made fiberglass costume heads in two pieces (front and back) that were fastened together with aircraft screws. Whitney Rydbeck, an actor and mime who played Larry, recalled the difficulties of acting while wearing the fiberglass head. The air inside the head warmed up quickly because of lights and body heat, making breathing difficult. Rydbeck and other dummy actors could see only light and shadows through the translucent plastic eyes. Rydbeck and Tony Reitano (Vince) had to memorize their steps while rehearsing without the heads, then put on the heads and act out the commercials largely without sight. For dialog, Rydbeck synchronized his “mouth” movements (a white metal plate for “teeth” alternating with a black metal plate representing no teeth showing) to the prerecorded voice of television actor / writer Lorenzo Music.
Object Name
date made
ca 1990
Physical Description
fiberglass (overall material)
overall: 12 in x 8 in x 10 in; 30.48 cm x 20.32 cm x 25.4 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
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Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
American Enterprise
Road Transportation
American Enterprise
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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