Dexter's junk-mail jaunt is over Reunion: Postal police bring him home to South Baltimore, where his 10-year-old ventriloquist master cries. Where he's been the last three weeks, the postmaster says, only the dummy knows.

June 28, 1996|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

If Dexter were a collie and not a dummy, the movie would be "Lassie Come Home."

For just like Lassie, a long-lost Dexter did come home yesterday -- to a teary-eyed little boy who put his arm around him and then up his back.

For nearly three weeks, Spencer Horsman, a 10-year-old ventriloquist, pined away for Dexter, his professional partner and prop, who had somehow been lost by the U.S. Postal Service. On June 6, Dexter had been boxed up and mailed from Venice, Calif., where he had been sent for refurbishing. He was supposed to arrive in Baltimore the next day. Instead, Dexter disappeared into the maw of the U.S. mail.

Suddenly Spencer, a sweet-natured boy with blond hair and long lashes, was left without the sidekick who had accompanied him from the stage of "The David Letterman Show" to an impromptu appearance during a David Copperfield performance in Las Vegas a couple of years ago.

"He's really a brother to me, so I really miss him," Spencer, an only child, told a parade of reporters during Dexter's absence.

Without Dexter, Spencer was forced to return to the more primitive, stuffed puppet he had worked with when he was first developing his ventriloquist act more than two years ago. He used that dummy -- also named Dexter -- at a performance for Gilman first graders in early June and was planning to take him to Las Vegas early next month to a convention of the Society of American Magicians.

But he never stopped longing for his lost Dexter with the red hair, tuxedo, wide eyes and frozen grin.

To say that Spencer is the son of a couple of clowns is no insult. Both his parents, Ken and Bernadette Horsman, were clowns with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Each more bubbly than the other, the Horsmans still entertain all around the region while also operating their South Baltimore magic shop, the Yogi Magic Mart.

Unsurprisingly, Spencer found himself inclined toward performing. He soaked up everything he heard from his parents, as well as the many magicians who gravitated to the store. He started his ventriloquist act around his 8th birthday and has been refining it ever since.

He never fails to impress. Two years in a row, he won second place in an international competition of child-magicians. He also has appeared on numerous local television shows and a few national ones, as well.

"He's just phenomenal," said Bill Gorton, a professional ventriloquist for decades and one of Spencer's coaches.

Like all ventriloquists, Spencer plays straight man to his wisecracking dummy.

"Dexter, if you're good, I'll give you a nice shiny nickel," Spencer says.

"I'll take a dirty old quarter instead," says Dexter.

"Dexter, did you lose a shoe?" Spencer asks. "No, Dude, I found one."

Spencer's signature trick is to have Dexter blow bubbles. Spencer then grabs one from the air and it becomes a glass marble.

None of his magic, though, was working with the U.S. Postal Service, at least until Tuesday. That's when Baltimore Postmaster Joe Lennon, a round man with a gray beard, got a call from his South Station informing him that the package everyone had been on the lookout for had materialized mysteriously with the bulk mail.

Lennon called the Horsmans in their van Wednesday as they were returning from a show in Virginia. Spencer got on the phone tTC to hear Lennon tell him, "I've got a friend of yours here." Spencer burst into tears.

Arrangements were made for Lennon to deliver Dexter to the magic shop yesterday. By then, Spencer's parents had arranged for full media coverage. Lennon entered the shop around 11: 35 a.m. carrying a package and accompanied by Sgt. Robert Forrest of the postal police. ("Put it this way," Forrest said, "the dummy wasn't going to get away from us.")

Since Lennon was a little early, Ken Horsman hustled him to a back room and then had him return through the front door again so the camera crews could capture the reunion. By then, Spencer, wearing a tie and striped shirt, had appeared.

"Look who I've got, your long lost buddy," said Lennon.

"Ooh, I got him back," Spencer cooed upon lifting Dexter from the box.

The television guys, being television guys, immediately went for the cuteness jugular and commenced interviewing Dexter. "Where you been, Dexter?" "Are you happy to be back, Dexter?" "Did you miss Spencer, Dexter?"

Spencer was game, though lacking in sure-fire material. From out of camera range, his father prompted him: "Maybe Dexter could do a song." Spencer happily obliged.

Lennon seemed to relish playing the hero in this happy ending, though he had to deflect a few questions that suggested the postal system's obvious deficiencies in the whole matter.

"So where's Dexter been all this time?" one reporter asked. "You'll have to ask Dexter that; only he knows," said Lennon. His smile was as tight as the dummy's.

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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