Today I found out the guy who invented one of the first artificial hearts was also the voice of Gargamel on the Smurfs; Mr. Owl on the Tootsie Pop commercials; Winnie the Pooh; and Tigger too.
The man was Paul Winchell, who is perhaps best remembered for hosting the Winchell-Mahoney Time children’s show in the 1960s with his ventriloquist dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, the originals of which now reside in the Smithsonian.
Other famed characters and voices done by Winchell include: Dick Dastardly, played in multiple series including Wacky Races and Dastardly and Muttley; Fleegle on The Banana Splits; Clyde and Softy on The Perils of Penelope Pitstop; Grossey Grossem in Germbusters 3: The Infection on the XBOX 360, replacing Casey Kasem; Fearless Freddy the Shark Hunter on the Pink Panther cartoon and spin-off Misterjaw; Sam-I-Am and his unnamed friend in Green Eggs and Ham; Robonic Stooges as Moe; Zummi Gummi on the Adventures of the Gummi Bears; voice of the Scrubbing Bubbles for the commercials; and various voices on The CB Bears, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, and the Blue Racer series.
Starting in The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Winchell began alternating with voice actor Jim Cummings, who is now the sole voice of Pooh and Tigger since Winchell’s retirement in 2000.
Besides doing voice acting and ventriloquist work, Winchell also was an inventor, holding over 30 patents including: a fountain pen with a retractable tip; a disposable razor; a blood plasma defroster; a flameless lighter; an invisible garter belt (probably the shortest patent application ever) ; garment for hypothermia; a piezo-electric diaphragm; and heated gloves, among others.
On his patent on the artificial heart, which was applied for in 1961 and granted in 1963, it is often claimed that Winchell was the first to patent and artificial heart, but this is incorrect. However, Winchell’s design for an artificial heart is often cited as a crude prototype of the only artificial heart granted full PMA approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Jarvik-7. The Jarvik-7 was successfully used in a human in 1982 and was invented by Robert Jarvik more than a decade after Winchell’s artificial heart patent was approved.
Jarvik denies Winchell’s design influenced his own. However, Jarvik developed his artificial heart at the University of Utah, which was the same University that Winchell donated his patent for the artificial heart, around the same time Jarvik was working on his version. Thus, it is unlikely Jarvik was unaware of Winchell’s similar design at the time. Further, as Dr. Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich maneuver and collaborator of Winchell’s on the design for the artificial heart, said: “I saw the heart, I saw the patent and I saw the letters. The basic principle used in Winchell’s heart and Jarvik’s heart is exactly the same.”
Whether Jarvik intentionally copied Winchell’s work and improved it or simply came up with a similar, improved design independently is under debate. Jarvik says his design was influenced by designs by Kolff, Akutsu, Liotta, Kwan-Gett, and many others, but not Winchell’s design. He also states he considers Winchell’s design “crude and impractical”, though that could probably be said about many predecessors to eventual working advanced technologies.
In any event, one of the designs Jarvik said did influence his was Kolff’s. Kolff was the one who hired Jarvik and who was Jarvik’s mentor at the University of Utah. Kolff had a very different view of Winchell’s artificial heart. Upon discovering Winchell’s artificial heart, after discovering from the patent office that Winchell’s heart was prior art to his own design, Kolff invited Winchell to the medical center at the University of Utah and even allowed Winchell to assist in transplants on animals. While there, Winchell became so impressed with Kolff’s work that he donated his design to the University of Utah so that Kolff and others working there, such as Jarvik, would have no legal problems due to Winchell’s pre-existing patent for an artificial heart that was very similar in design to the ones they were working on, including the one Jarvik patented sometime after Winchell turned over his design to the University of Utah.
- Winchell’s last performance as the voice of Tigger came in Winnie the Pooh: A Valentine For You.
- Winchell’s first performance as a ventriloquist came in school, when he persuaded his teacher to let him make a dummy as an art project. According to Winchell, “I didn’t tell anyone that I’d learned ventriloquism during the last few months. I simply picked up the head and began to make it talk. My classmates were astounded and watched in awe as I began to imitate Charlie McCarthy’s voice. . . . I’d never been particularly popular in school, but suddenly I had found my place in the sun. I recall vividly twin girls who decided to become my bodyguards and acted as though I was their property; wherever I went, they followed to protect me.”
- It was Winchell’s principal who then helped him get on the radio talent show “Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour” at the age of 15. This turned out to be his big break and, after winning, he spent the next 10 years or so playing various venues before landing spots on TV.
- Winchell also wrote two books: Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit and Acupuncture without Needles
- Winchell sued Metromedia in 1986 over syndication rights to 288 videotapes of his shows. As a response, Metromedia destroyed the tapes. This turned out to be a bad move as the courts subsequently awarded Winchell 17.8 million dollars for the loss of the tapes and future revenue from syndication rights.
- Winchell also owned a t-shirt shop; ran a fish farm; worked as a medical hypnotist at the Gibbs Institute as a licensed hypnotist; and was a licensed acupuncturist.
- In 1974, Winchell won a Grammy Award for Best Recording for Children for “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!”
- The now famous Tigger catchphrase “Ta-ta for now” was improvised by Winchell.
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