Jerry Halliday & his new gay puppet, Twinky Boy
By Mike Jeknavorian
Puppeteer Jerry Halliday has performed his entire life, including headlining in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada. But, the culmination of Halliday’s career, and a decided labor of love, is the creation of his first gay puppet, “Twinky Boy.”. I sat down with Halliday to hear about his prolific career and about the impetus behind “the world’s gayest puppet with a hand stuck up it,” Twinky Boy.
MIKE JEKNAVORIAN: What’s the first show that you ever did?
JERRY HALLIDAY: I was five years old, and I made some puppets out of paper bags. I have no idea what the show was about, but it became a regular activity to do puppet shows in my backyard for the neighborhood kids.
MJ: What originally motivated you to perform?
JH: Every year when I was in elementary school, I got to see touring productions by professional marionette companies out of New York City. Also, seeing Bil Baird’s puppets on TV. For those who don’t know who Baird is, he did the marionettes in the film, The Sound of Music.
MJ: What’s the first puppet that you ever manipulated?
JH: A Mickey Mouse marionette.
MJ: You make all your own puppets. What’s the first one that you ever made?
JH: I can’t remember (laughs).
MJ: Other than Twinky Boy, which one is your favorite?
JH: Sista Girl, my sassy little urban gal.
MJ: You practice the art of illusion, as opposed to ventriloquism. What’s the difference
between the two?
JH: Basically, I don’t interact with the puppets I’m performing with. I don’t talk to them, and they don’t talk to me. I focus on bringing my puppet characters to life, in the tradition of Wayland Flowers and “Madame” and the musical, Avenue Q. I also make no attempt to “throw my voice.”
MJ: What was your first taste of fame?
JH: Appearing on Joan Rivers’ TV show with my Joan Rivers puppet. Joan did the voice off-camera, while I lip-synced her with my puppet.
MJ: You’ve performed in many venues around the country. Which one stands out to you?
JH: I starred in a big, splashy show for six months at Sammy’s Showroom at Harrah’s Hotel Casino. This glamorous theater was designed and built especially for Sammy Davis, Jr., and it was a thrill for me to perform on the same stage that once had Don Rickles, Tina Turner, Jay Leno, and, of course, Sammy Davis, Jr.
MJ: You’ve also performed in many venues in Fort Lauderdale. Which one do you miss?
JH: The Copa.
MJ: What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on stage?
JH: Accidentally knocking Eva Gabor flat on her bum. She was visiting backstage and had sneaked up where no one was supposed to be to peek out on stage to see what was going on. There was always a quick black-out at the end of my act, while I ran offstage for a very fast wardrobe change. When I crashed into her after the blackout, I apologized profusely and tried to make quick small talk. I had recently seen a TV commercial for the Green Acres Reunion Special, so I said, “Oh, Miss Gabor. I loved your reunion show.” She replied, “But dahling, it hasn’t aired yet.”
MJ: You’ve performed with many celebrities. Which one wasn’t what you expected?
JH: The singer Engelbert Humperdinck. Merv Griffin owned the casino I was performing at, and he called me into Rip Taylor’s dressing room to tell me he liked my act. Merv said, “Have you met Engelbert?” I turned around and sitting behind me was Engelbert himself. I said, “Oh, hello. So nice to meet you.” Engelbert said nothing; he just extended the back of his limp hand like I should kiss it. I’m not saying he had a ton of “work” done on his face, but it was like meeting a frozen waxwork mannequin.
MJ: Can you give us some dirt on one of them?
JH: Of course I can, but my lips are sealed. Gossip travels fast in showbiz. In the olden days, before the internet, they used to say, “Telephone, telegram, and tell-a-queen” (laughs).
MJ: After performing on and off for many years in South Florida, you moved from Las Vegas to Wilton Manors three years ago. Why did you move here?
JH: I’ve done so many shows down here, it’s like a second home to me. Las Vegas has nothing like the colorful, sophisticated gay scene in Wilton Manors. I’m much more comfortable living near the ocean instead of the dry hot desert. I love being here.
MJ: Twinky Boy took over two years to make. Was she worth it in the end?
JH: Don’t call him “she.” He’ll smack you with his purse. Yes, all the blood, sweat, and agony laboring over his creation, has resulted in something that’s certainly unique and one-of-a-kind.
MJ: What was the original inspiration behind him?
JH: One of the strongest influences is the flamboyantly gay Carmen Ghia, the “common-law assistant” to Roger DeBris in The Producers. However, Twinky Boy is much younger than Miss Carmen.
MJ: Do you find yourself talking in his voice around the house?
JH: Oh yes indeed. It’s been the greatest challenge of my theatrical career to learn how to do a queenie, high-pitched, nasal-twanged, twinkie voice.
MJ: What’s your immediate goal with Twinky Boy?
JH: To showcase him with my regular nationwide touring cast of crazies: Sista Girl, Granny Goodtimes, and the Not So Holy Nun. I’d like to get him out and about all over the stages in South Florida.
MJ: What’s your dream for him?
JH: I’ve always created characters that I thought would go over big in gay bars, comedy clubs, and casino showrooms. Twinky Boy, however, is the first character that I created specifically for a national audience. My dream for Twinky Boy is his own comedy special on cable TV or Netflix, as well as appearances on network talk shows.
MJ: And finally, is Twinky Boy anatomically correct?
JH: Only Pinocchio knows. And Pinocchio’s nose ain’t all that grows.