Today we sing the praises of a Hollywood personality who has been acting on screen now for sixty-eight years. He has been nominated for eight academy awards. He was drafted in World War II and won an Oscar for his anti-Nazi propaganda film, Der Fuerer's Face. In Italy, this Hollywood legend is known as Paparino. In Finland they call him Kale Anke. But here in America, we know him best as Donald Duck.
There is some debate concerning when Donald was actually born. In one of his cartoon's Donald celebrates March 13 as his birthday, but film historians tell us that June 9, 1934 was the date of Donald's first appearance on the big screen. On this day, Donald appeared in a supporting role in Disney's short musical adaptation of The Wise Little Hen. Donald is the creation of the fertile and wacky imaginations of a number of people. In 1933 Walt Disney decided to add a new character - a talking duck. Walt had been having PR problems with another of his stars - Mickey Mouse. Walt was perplexed that every time Mickey did something bad or slightly immoral on screen, the Disney studios would receive a bag of mail protesting the scenes. Walt decided to clean up Mickey's act and create a new character - one whom audiences would expect to act sometimes selfish - or perhaps throw a wild tantrum here and there.
Enter next, Clarence Nash. Nash had a peculiar position with the Adohr Milk Company. He drove a miniature milk wagon pulled by miniature horses - and his job was to entertain children with his animal imitations. He'd been on the radio a few times and decided on a whim to stop by the Disney studios to see if they needed a voice man. Entering the lobby in his milk truck uniform, Nash was immediately given an audition. He did a baby chicken, a turkey, various dogs, a raccoon, a coyote, and then began to recite Mary Had a Little Lamb in a voice that his listeners described as something like a duck. At this point, an intercom was secretly turned so that Walt Disney could listen in. Upon hearing the duck, Disney entered the room and hired him on the spot.
Donald, of course, went on to become one of - if not the - most popular Disney characters. He stared in 128 Disney shorts and moonlighted in comic books. Drawn by Carl Banks, the Donald Duck Comic Book was, at one point in the 1950s, selling 25 million copies a month worldwide. Today, Donald is still with us, on the ABC Saturday morning cartoon, House of Mouse.
Donald biographer, Marcia Blitz sums up Donald's appeal well when she writes "We Love him for his gloriously unrepressed character; we envy hi straight- forward way of dealing with the world; we applaud his devil-may-care attitude; and we revel in the power of his rages. Whether he's being hotheaded or selfish, understanding or kind, we respond to Donald."
Blitz, Marcia. Donald Duck. New York: Harmony Books, 1979.
Copyright © 2002, Kevin Shortsleeve
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