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Sunday, December 28, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 23.0° F  Fair
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Cowboy Eddie lives on
Madison's most famous and valuable dummy makes his triumphant return
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Cowboy Eddie is returning.

For natives age 45 and up, that's all you need to know to smile.

Cowboy Eddie and his ventriloquist, Howie Olson, hosted WISC-TV's Circus 3 children's show from 1961 to 1972. He's returning to Madison with Olson's protégé, Jacki Manna, to appear in a public performance for the Houdini Club of Wisconsin on Aug. 30.

"Cowboy Eddie is a storied part of the station's history," says Tom Bier, WISC general manager.

An estimated 13,000 children appeared on the program, and countless more joined in at home. At 4 p.m. each weekday, Cowboy Eddie and Olson sat at the Circus 3 desk, flanked by galleries of children who had arranged to be on the show as much as six months in advance. Cartoons, viewers' drawings and the Question of the Day were features.

"A few times per year I receive calls asking about whether viewers can get copies of when they appeared," says Bier. But the show was presented live and not taped.

Eddie originally belonged to Olson's entertainer father, who billed himself as the Great Chesterfield. Eddie and Howie were both born in 1910 -- in Eddie's case, carved by the same firm that created the famous ventriloquist's dummy Charlie McCarthy. Howie took over Eddie in the waning days of vaudeville and entertained troops during World War II. His greatest fame came here.

"He is the most coveted puppet out there in the ventriloquist world," says Manna, an Orlando-based entertainer. "People who collect figures know that he is the most valuable. They all want him."

Manna, an Iowa native, has performed in a variety of venues for more than 20 years. She'd never considered show business until Olson took her on as an assistant around 1989, to help him construct figures for other ventriloquists.

"He taught me everything he knew and pushed me out on stage," she recalls. Manna has developed her own puppets, and on occasion presents Cowboy Eddie to special audiences, as Olson wanted.

"In his last days, he said, 'Make him live on. Keep him alive and make him live on.' So that's what I've done," says Manna. Olson died in 1992.

Does Cowboy Eddie himself have anything to share with readers?

"Of course he does," says Manna. And then Eddie goes on to say, "Yippee! I'm going back home to Madison!"

The show is part of the 75th annual convention of the Houdini Club of Wisconsin. The program will include the Balsters magic troupe. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Gilda's Club Madison.

The event will be held at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, in the Performing Arts Center at Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol St. Tickets are $12, $8 for children and seniors, and are available at the door.

[Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Olson took Manna on as an assistant in 1989.]

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