Today, June 9, is the 76th birthday of my favorite rage-addicted cartoon character, Donald Duck. Donald made his big-screen debut in "The Wise Little Hen," a Silly Symphony cartoon, on June 9, 1934. He went on to star in 127 more of his own adventures, while appearing as a secondary character in hundreds of others.
Donald Duck is dear to me for several reasons. He means well, most of the time. He expects the best, which fuels his indignation when things go wrong. He tends to be accident-prone. He sometimes has difficulty making himself understood. (If you're having a bad day, or having a conversation that's getting a little too heated, switch over to a Donald Duck voice for a few minutes and listen to what that sounds like. Unless you are talking to a police officer, your outlook is guaranteed to improve.)
Anyway, here are five things I didn't know about Donald until I looked him up.
1. His middle name is Fauntleroy. Is it any wonder he's annoyed?
2. His first girlfriend was named Donna, not Daisy. The Disney website says that Donna Duck, who appeared in Donald's first starring vehicle, Don Donald, is the same character as Daisy Duck, having undergone a name change. I don't know. I like the idea of Donald as a ladies' man, with Donna as the Disney universe's nod to Lilith.
3. Donald Duck's sacrifice for his art earned an Academy Award. Just as human actors stretch by playing characters that may do horrifying things (e.g., Edward Norton in American History X, Charlize Theron in Monster, etc.), Donald Duck is the only major Disney character ever filmed saying the words "Heil Hitler" and "Heil Mussolini." He's the star of the Academy Award-winning cartoon Der Fuehrer's Face, a propaganda film inspired by the Oliver Wallace song of the same name. Donald's a loyal Nazi, until his factory job sends him over the edge, and then . . . well, watch the video. Elements of it are troubling for modern audiences; Disney kept the film out of circulation for almost 60 years. It is available on DVD only as part of box sets on wartime Disney films and Donald's own history.
4. Donald Duck was the first Disney character to star in a cartoon targeted to South American audiences. In the years before the U.S. entered the Second World War, Disney couldn't send cartoons to occupied Europe. Walt Disney, looking for new markets, toured Latin America to gather information about audiences there. The result was two feature-length films starring Donald: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
5. Clarence Nash, the original voice of Donald Duck (1934-1983), was also the voice of Daisy Duck and Donald's nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Clarence Nash was the voice of Donald Duck for 50 years. His last appearance as Donald was in Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983); he died in 1985 at the age of 80. Nash trained his successor, former Disney animator Tony Anselmo. Anselmo has been Donald's voice since 1985. He has played Huey, Dewey and Louie as well, but other actors play them in the TV series "DuckTales."