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Shirley Dinsdale Layburn (October 31, 1926 – May 9, 1999), better known by her maiden name of Shirley Dinsdale, was an American ventriloquist and television and radio personality of the 1940s and early 1950s.

Shirley Dinsdale
BornOctober 31, 1926
DiedMay 9, 1999(1999-05-09) (aged 72)
Alma materStony Brook University
OccupationVentriloquist/Television & Radio personality
Years active1940–1986
Spouse(s)Frank Layburn (1953–her death)

She is best remembered for her dummy "Judy Splinters" and for the early 15-minute children's television show that bears that name. In 1949, she received the first Emmy award (first award in the first presentation) for Outstanding Television Personality when she was a student at UCLA.[1] After her television career, she also achieved success in a second career as a cardiopulmonary therapist.


Early lifeEdit

Dinsdale was born in San Francisco, California in 1926. After being badly burned in a household accident when she was 5 years old, she was given a ventriloquist's dummy by her father, who manufactured dummies for department stores, as part of her recovery. That dummy, which she named Judy Splinters, inspired her to make her break into radio.[2] Lawrence Johnson, a ventriloquist, helped Dinsdale improve her natural talent for throwing her voice.[3]

Dinsdale was an A student at Drew School in San Francisco.[3] By the time she was 16, she had received a Distinguished Honor Citation from the United States government for her promotion of war bonds.[4] During the war, she was student chairman for Southern California Schools at War.[5]



Dinsdale made her start in radio in 1941 with Judy in Wonderland on KGO in San Francisco.[6] The program later moved to KPO in San Francisco.[7]

In 1942, she and her family moved to Los Angeles and she was given a spot on Eddie Cantor's program. She was called "radio's most refreshing discovery in years."[8] A successful season on Nelson Eddy's Electric Hour program on CBS[4] in 1945 led to a tour lasting almost 11 months, during which she visited patients in military hospitals under the auspices of the United Service Organizations[8] and participated in more than 500 USO shows during that span.[9]


During World War II, she was an active member of the Hollywood Victory Committee. After the war, she made her break into the budding television industry on KTLA (also in Los Angeles) doing show announcements, birthday greetings, and small spots. These spots, while not initially prominent, garnered her critical acclaim and her Emmy award. (The award was given jointly to both her and her puppet.) After receiving the award, she was given her own weekly children's show (entitled simply Judy Splinters), which ran from 1949 to 1950. It originated at KNBH in Los Angeles and was show in the Midwest and East via Kinescope.[9] In the years following, she had shows in both Chicago and New York City.

Post-ventriloquism careerEdit

In 1953, she embarked on the second phase of her life: retiring from show business, getting married and having two children. She remained married till her death.

In 1958 she appeared as a guest challenger on the TV panel show "To Tell the Truth".

In 1970 Dinsdale enrolled at the State University of New York at Stony Brook to study respiratory and cardiopulmonary therapy. She graduated class of 1972. Dinsdale served as the head of the Respiratory Therapy Department at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, New York from 1973 to her second retirement in 1986.[10]


On July 14, 1953, Dinsdale married Frank Layburn, a field engineer, in Springfield, Massachusetts.[11]


She died from cancer on May 9, 1999 at her home in Stony Brook, New York. Survivors included her husband, a son, a daughter, and two grandchildren.[10]


  1. ^ To Tell the Truth. Originally aired April 15, 1958 on CBS. Rebroadcast on the Game Show Network on February 2, 2009.
  2. ^ Lowrance, Dee (April 24, 1943). "Mother's Wisdom Aids Girl Radio Star to Triumph Over Chlldhood Tragedy". The Edwardsville Intelligencer. p. 3. Retrieved May 14, 2015 – via  
  3. ^ a b "Now Look Who's Talking". Deadwood Pioneer-Times. December 3, 1942. p. 2. Retrieved May 14, 2015 – via  
  4. ^ a b "Shirley Dinsdale Is Featured On Program". The Sandusky Register. January 13, 1945. p. 2. Retrieved May 14, 2015 – via  
  5. ^ "Shirley" (PDF). Radio Life: 8. April 30, 1944.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Child Artist" (PDF). Broadcasting. December 8, 1941. p. 44. Retrieved 15 May 2015.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ "Radio Advertisers" (PDF). Broadcasting. March 30, 1942. p. 47. Retrieved 15 May 2015.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ a b "Shirley Dinsdale Tops List of Stage and Screen Stars At Casa Colina's 'Open House'". Chino Champion. August 22, 1947. p. 1. Retrieved May 14, 2015 – via  
  9. ^ a b "Judy Splinters -- and Shirley" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror. 32 (2): 54–55. July 1949. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
  10. ^ a b "Shirley Dinsdale Layburn". Variety. May 24, 1999. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  11. ^ "People" (PDF). Broadcasting. July 20, 1953. p. 102. Retrieved 15 May 2015.[permanent dead link]

External linksEdit