It's paid off. Collins, whose father is a psychologist and mother a former social worker, puts on 30 performances a year at $10 to $200 a show. Corliss and her dummy, Lucy Lollipop (so named for the Peanuts character and Lucille Ball), have appeared on several nationally syndicated and cable TV shows. Collins has four talent agents, one each in New York, L.A., Dallas and Oklahoma City. Having a sassy alter ego has its advantages. "I'm basically reserved, although I'm a lot less shy than I used to be," says Corliss. "Lucy is very aggressive. She talks back to people and I don't." But, admits Collins, who will appear in an upcoming episode of CBS' Dallas without her wooden co-worker, "I don't want to do this all my life. I want to be a professional actress when I grow up."
When the curtain rises on the Metropolitan Opera's historic first production of George Gershwin's haunting Porgy and Bess this winter, the first voice heard will be that of lyric soprano Marvis Martin, 30. Alternating (with Myra Merritt) in the role of Earth Mother Clara, Martin is expected to breathe new brilliance into the classic aria Summertime. "If that song is sung with the magic it deserves," says Martin, "it is possible to feel transported somewhere into the clouds."
Summertime is also the sort of stratospheric vehicle that could make Martin's professional living easy. Martin grew up in Miami and was attracted to the opera in high school. She saw famed soprano Leontyne Price perform with the Miami Philharmonic and was transfixed. "She conveyed to me that I could do it too," says Martin, who now discusses music with close friend Price over tea.
Named Marvis mainly because "marvelous" is her mother's favorite adjective, Martin now lives alone in a Manhattan brownstone. She has a master's from the Manhattan School of Music and as part of the Met's Young Artists Development Program, she has sung major roles in several Met productions. Says Samuel Niefeld, Kiri Te Kanawa's manager, who now represents Marvis as well: "Marvis Martin is the hope of the future, vocally."
At an age when most girls are giving up dolls, Corliss Collins is using hers to make some money. The freckle-faced Oklahoma City 12-year-old is the country's youngest professional ventriloquist—a craft she learned from her brother, Bryson, now in the Marines. "I used to play with his dolls," says Collins, who's been performing professionally since she was 6½. "He gave it up when he started dating. But my mom still got requests for him to perform, and she would tell them, 'My daughter's a ventriloquist too.' "