Clarence Nash – the voice of Donald Duck

Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck for over 50 years, died on 20th February 1985 at the age of eighty. We print this interview between Father Robert Murphy and Clarence Nash as a tribute to one of cartoon-lands best known voices.

Clarence Nash with his Donald Duck ventriloquist dummy.

Interspersed throughout the following article is a three-way interview conducted by Father Robert Murphy. The other two participants are Clarence “Ducky” Nash and in a very real and totally believable way, Donald Duck himself through the guise of Clarence’s ventriloquist dummy!

On January 25, 1983, I walked through the front gate of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California with a small but sprightly couple. The wife defers to the animated little man dressed like any other California septagenarian – colourful shirt, cardigan sweater, and alpine hat. He walks with a fast, almost jumpy gait. The stories and names – like Donald, Walt, Mickey, etc. – all pour out in an almost incomprehensible rate. Mid-sentence, the man is stopped by a security officer who has stepped out of his booth at the entrance to Dopey Drive. He eyes our little group and demands to know: “Where do you think you’re going?” “You’re new here, aren’t you?” the little man asked the guard. The guard acknowledged that he was and, in that voice the whole world knows, Clarence “Ducky” Nash said:
“Well, that’s okay! I’m Donald Duck!” The guard looked in amazement and then smiled a broad smile and waved us on in.

As a collector of animated art (drawings and cels) I had come to Los Angeles, accompanied by my friend Father Mike Caruso, to take a week’s vacation and meet with fellow collectors and members of the International Animated Film Society. I had done the same thing the year before and had been treated to a lengthy visit and interview with Ollie Johnston, one of the nine old men of the Disney Studios. (Printed in Animator No.12) Now, here I was again, one year later and lucky enough to be the guest of another Disney legend – Clarence “Ducky” Nash.

In 1934 the premier of Walt Disney’s “Silly Symphony” short, “The Wise Little Hen.,” introduced Donald Duck to the world. And for all those 50 years, through countless cartoons, educational films, radio, TV and public appearances, Donald’s mad squawk has been fuelled by one man -Clarence “Ducky” Nash.

MURPHY (speaking to Clarence’s “Donald” dummy): Well, Donald, the first picture that you did was called “The Wise Little Hen,” wasn’t it?

DONALD: That’s right, followed by “The Orphan’s Picnic.”

CLARENCE: That’s when the Studio found what a trigger temper our friend here had.

M: Clarence, did they take any of Donald’s personality traits from the way you created the voice or did they tell you what Donald was going to be like from the start?

C: It came from the storyboards and they built on it in the next picture, “The Band Concert.” After that, they began to study Donald and took something from each of the early cartoons to build upon, eventually evolving into the Donald that the world came to know and love.
Walt is gone and so are many of those early dreamers who had seen the progression of a stick-figure mouse blossom into the beauty of a “Fantasia’. The other famous Disney voices have all changed. Walt Disney used to be the voice of Mickey Mouse but was replaced by brilliant special effects man, Jim McDonald. Pinto Colvig, the voice of Goofy, has been gone for some years. It was, then, with special pride that Clarence told me that a new theatrical cartoon, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” will utilize stars of the past (Mickey, in his first film in 30 years; Uncle Scrooge; Minnie Mouse, Goofy; Moley, Ratty, and Weasles from “The Wind in the Willows; and Black Pete from any number of early Mickey shorts). Only Donald Duck will be the same voice it’s always been – Clarence Nash!

M: Donald, I understand that you’re going to be helping out your friend Mickey again m a new cartoon, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”?

D: Yep. I play Uncle Scrooge’s nephew.

M: In the original, I believe that the character was called Fred. Is that your character’s name?

D: Nope. It’s Donald: always Donald!

Born in Oklahoma in 1905, Clarence Nash was a man who enjoyed making people laugh. He found that he had quite a facility to do imitations – principally birds – and soon found himself on the Chataqua circuit travelling around the country. Says Clarence. “Chataqua was high grade vaudeville and was more family orientated.”

Clarence was serious enough with his bird imitations to actually take further instruction from a woman (called Madame Someone-or-other) who actually ran a school to help amateurs like Clarence perfect their talent in doing bird imitations! He became so proficient that he toured for awhile as the personal representative of the Adolph Milk Company and was billed as “Clarence the Milk Man and his Bird Imitations”.

M: Donald, a lot of little kids think I do a fair imitation of you. What do you think? (Here I try my weak imitation.)

D: It’s more like a distant cousin.

M: I guess it sounds like a combination of E.T. and a quail.

C: Oh no! A quail sounds like this… (and a perfect quail imitation poured forth).

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