Mickey Mouse – The Mouse’s Tale – Page 2

“The Boss with one of the early Mickey Mouse dolls - from which I, by the way, never made a single cent!”

His eyes sparkle, and I know that – for a moment – he’s back there, in front of the cameras and loving every moment of it. Then he sighs. “I used to think I was pretty well set up for life – especially when I won the Oscar in 1932 – but then along came this aggressive bit-player called Donald Duck and, before I knew what was happening, he was getting star-billing, number-one dressing-room, the lot! Don’t get me wrong, Donald’s got talent all right – if you like that kind of anarchic comedy, which I guess the public did – but well, it’s not what I call acting…”

He offers me another drink which I decline, but which he pours anyway. “I suppose I should have seen the signs… I began having to share movies with Goofy and the Duck. Before I knew where I was, they were getting all the real comic business. Take a picture like Tugboat Mickey. Name in the title, right? So what do I have to do? I’ll tell you, I have to hurl buckets of water overboard – wait for it – into the wind! No one would think I began my career as a river-pilot!”

With an ironic laugh he bites the ears off a Mickey Mouse jelly-shape. “Anyway, all that’s blood under the bridge, and I wasn’t the only one to suffer. In fact, I hung in there longer than some. Remember Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow? They were the first to go, along with Clara Cluck the Operatic Hen. Perhaps you don’t know her, she was the Kiri Te Kanawa of her day. She still does the odd commercial. If anyone wants a singing chicken, they send for Clara. But it’s a long way from Aida!”

I ask if he still sees any of the other members of the Disney stock- company? “Oh, sure. I play poker once a week with Pegleg Pete, who got out on parole last year – though he cheats like hell! I get the occasional round of golf with Horace (who’s running a stud-farm) and the Goof (when he’s sober). And once in a while I shoot a game of pool with Jimmy Cricket. I’m afraid I still find him a bit Billy Grahamish, if you know what I mean, but there’s no doubting his heart’s in the right place.”

“This Jimmy Macdonald and Wayne Allwine: the guys who, following Walt, have provided my crazy voice.”

What about the other Disney mice? “To be honest, we don’t mix much. Jaq and Gus are quite amusing, I suppose, but I can never understand a word they say and they’re pretty thick with Cinderella and that royal set, which was never my scene. As for Timothy Mouse, well I always felt that if there’d been any justice in the world, I’d have got that part in Dumbo, so there’s not a great deal of love lost between us.”

And Minnie? Are they, I enquire, just as happy as ever? He laughs. “Well, of course, it’s only a professional relationship. Very good friends, as they say. But nothing romantic. Minnie’s not really my kind of girl – I go more for the Daryl Hannah type.”

But was Minnie a good actress? “One of the best, I mean the best. Ever see one of our pictures where she was terrorized by Pegleg Pete? God, could she scream! Fay Wray hadn’t got a patch on her! But we’ve always tried to keep our private life, private. Actually, Minnie’s happily settled with a guy called Jerry, who used to have a cat-and-mouse act over at MGM.” And what about Mickey? “No comment!”.

“Minnie always said success would go to my head! This hot air balloon of me is whimsically called ‘Earforce One’! Get it?”

He pours me yet another Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and I summon up the nerve to mention something I’ve been wondering about for some time – the voice. “Not quite the falsetto you expected, eh?” he laughs. “No, well, you see I never used my own voice in films. Walt didn’t think it sounded mousey enough. When I started out, of course, movies were silent, so no one cared a hoot what sort of voice you had. Then that idiot Jolson opened his mouth in The Jazz Singer and it was all-singing, all-talking from then on. I’d made three pictures by that time, but Walt decided to make them over for sound, starting with Steamboat Willie. Since he wasn’t too keen on my voice, he came up with that crazy squeaky accent and dubbed it himself. These things go on all the time in Hollywood – take Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady – and, anyway, it’s the acting that counts. After Walt packed it in, a guy called Jimmy Macdonald did the voice. We worked together for years. Nice man.”

So who provides Mickey’s voice now? “Some kid named Wayne Allwine who keeps ringing me up to ask my advice on how to say certain words and phrases. As if I knew! I couldn’t speak like that to save my life!”

A Snoopy telephone on the pool-side table rings. “That’s probably him now!” While he answers the phone, I browse through an old cuttings-album he hands me. It is packed with pictures of Mickey in some of his many roles: song-and-dance man, ring-master, magician, explorer, conductor, flying-ace, car-mechanic and giant-killer. The phone-call ends and he replaces the receiver. “I was wrong. It was the City Dog Pound. They’ve picked up Pluto again. Dumb mutt’s always in some sort of trouble. This time he was digging up Joan Collins’ flower-beds! I’ll have to go down and bail him out when we’re through here. Was there anything else you wanted to ask?”

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