Completely adorable, utterly unique, indelibly Spanish and indefatigable -- he didn't retire from show business until he turned 100 years old -- the entertainer known as Senor Wences was a legend. Is a legend, actually, as his routines and trademark phrases continue to be a vital part of popular culture. Born in Salamanca, Spain, in 1896, Wenceslao Moreno briefly flirted with becoming a bullfighter but soon traded in the red cape for a career in ventriloquism.
Wences is known and loved for his ingeniously simple little friend Johnny -- formed from nothing more than his own hand and a little grease pencil -- and his other cheeky companion Pedro who was a head who resided in a wooden box. Years touring nightclubs in Europe and the U.S. ultimately brought the popular vaudevillian to nationwide fame when he started appearing on American television variety shows like those headlined by "Mr. Television" Milton Berle, Jack Benny and others, including of course Ed Sullivan. Senor Wences continued to be a hit performer on the variety stage including a very successful stint on the bill with Danny Kaye when he was one of the most popular headliners in the U.S. and in London. In fact, when he was 90 years old Wences went on tour with the show Sugar Babies with Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney.
Now let's watch some Senor Wences! He was also an amazing juggler (which you might not remember). He is still completely hilarious today, with a delightfully absurd sense of humor that is utterly with-it and not at all corny or dated. Wonderful timing!
In 1947 he made an appearance in the Betty Grable movie Mother Wore Tights:
An early TV appearance with Ed Sullivan:
Senor Wences' act starts about 27:45 in on this next one, but of course it's from a Jack Benny special so you know the whole thing is great!
Beautiful color footage from The Ed Sullivan Show:
Three hilarious cereal commercials featuring Senor Wences:
Senor Wences on The Muppet Show:
In 1959 Senor Wences released a 45rpm single with songs featuring two of his catchphrases:
Here are a couple more commercials starring Senor Wences:
You can watch a commercial he did for Spain's tourist trade from 1981 by clicking here.
In 1986 he appeared in the Showtime comedy special The Garry Shandling Show: 25th Anniversary Special where Shandling played a talk show host. If after watching this you want to catch the whole terrific special, you can see it at the link here:
Senor Wences' 100th Birthday in 1996 received a lot of attention especially in the show business community. Wences at the time lived just a few blocks from the old Ed Sullivan Theater in fact, and he has a street named after him. Shortly after his 100th Wences passed the torch and his actual puppets over to ventriloquist Michele LaFong who had become one of his close friends and who he believed was the perfect person to keep his beloved characters alive, which she has. Check out her website here.
(There is a great set of articles about Senor Wences on this Spanish-language site which can be translated. Very nice! Be sure to click here to read about a documentary on Wences' life.)
The wonderful Senor Wences passed away on April 20,1999 at the age of 103. His artistry was incomparable, his act simple and sweet, and his legacy of laughter never-ending.