Hearing that the Disney Studios were looking for voices, Clarence made an appointment and the interviewer was so impressed that he rang Walt Disney’s intercom and let Walt listen in. According to Clarence, Walt’s first words to him were, “We’ve found our duck!” Clarence was on his way! “The Wise Little Hen” was a big success and now the Studio’s big star, Mickey, had a side-kick that could do the things that Mickey couldn’t do because of his status and the way his character had evolved. Donald was pouty and a show-off. He was a braggart and a smart-aleck. He was tender but could loose his temper at the drop of a hat. In short, he was the perfect counterbalance to the level headed Mickey. Donald’s next cartoon venture, “The Orphan’s Picnic”, expanded the possibilities in the script and, while it was Mickey who was the star, it was Donald who was getting all the laughs!
M: Donald, when you started off Mickey was the big star but, by the 1950’s almost all the cartoons starred you. How come?
D: That’s because I’m a true thespian!
M: Is that because “thespian” is easy to say?
D: Not if the duck is a linguist!
Signing an exclusive contract with the Walt Disney Studios kept Clarence busy and happy through the 30’s up to the present. Only once did Walt allow his duck star a solo venture outside the Studios. It was on the Burns and Allen show and Clarence played Gracie’s sick duck. As Clarence related: “Well, on the old Burns and Allen radio show, Donald became Gracie’s sick duck except that we couldn’t use the name Donald. Lionel Barrymore came on in his “Dr. Gillespie” role (from the “Dr. Kildare” series) to treat the duck and the writers liked the idea so well we ran the gag for two whole sessions. George thought a sick duck was a great gag and it gave Gracie someone to feel sorry for.”
It was such a hit that Clarence toured with George and Gracie in a stage show and that began the first of many public appearances for Donald and Clarence to use. The first Donald model looked like the Donald of the early films – long beaked and elongated head but lacking the roundness of feature that were to standardize Donald later for the rest of his life.
As Mickey’s comic cartoon possibilities began to decrease, Donald’s began to increase. Mickey became, in many ways, the elder statesman of the Disney Studios. He was the Chairman of the Board who was brought out for all openings and gatherings. He was the focal point, albeit, in many ways, retired. As befitted an elder statesman, Mickey played host to the Mickey Mouse Club on television and introduced the episodes without really being the star. As mentioned, it was Donald who took over the cinematic chores of the 1950’s teaming with such adversaries as Chip and Dale and Donald’s interchangeable nephews -Huey, Dewey, and Louie. No full-length feature was released from Disney without a short cartoon, usually of Donald, attached. As the output from the animation department became less and less, there were fewer and fewer Donald shorts and more and more reliance on rerunning and re-coupling the old cartoon with the newer live-action films.
In 1961 Donald Duck left the screen and Ducky Nash faced retirement. For a man as active as Ducky, this was a difficult new stage in his life. Ducky Nash, after all, had seen Donald through 128 Duck cartoons and five full-length features. So…Donald and Ducky hit the road again and children all over the country were richer for their antics.
Now, Donald and Ducky are being brought back to the fore. Besides the cartoon, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”, Ducky was proud to tell me that he had just arrived back in town from Orlando, Florida where Donald had recorded three new Donald Duck cartoons to be used with educational exhibits there. In addition, Ducky and Donald have taped new segments for the Disney station on cable TV and have both been the subject of a good number of radio and TV tributes in recent months. Clarence was proud to relate one such tribute: “recently Donald and I did our old act for pay-TV up at Caesars Tahoe and, while I was on stage, the emcee – Norm Crosby, you’ve heard of him? – had me sit down and they did a “This is Your Life”. Well, Roy Rogers came out – he’s an old friend – and Donald talked to R2D2. Boxcar Willie sang a song he had composed in my honor. And finally they read a telegram from President Reagan. It appeared on the evening news and I got letters from all over the world, even got one from Guam!”
Ducky Nash never sought fame or tried to direct attention to himself. He just wanted to make people happy. And as he and his lovely wife, Margie, took Fr. Mike and myself around Disneyland on January 26, 1983, he did just that. He looked for little children in the crowded lines or in the restaurants or walking down Main Street who looked blue and bored. Then he would begin to quack away. Frowns became smiles and even tired parents began to laugh.
Whatever the future holds for the immortal Donald Duck is anyone’s guess. But anyone in the know believes it wouldn’t be much without the heart and soul of lovable Clarence Nash.
M: (again speaking to Clarence’s dummy) I notice you listen when Clarence talks.
D: Yep, we’re never apart!
M: I’m bound to ask this. Is Donald Duck any religion?
D: Well, my friend is a Catholic. But I like anyone who’s inspiring. Achew! Oh, I just sneezed on a priest…
This article was reprinted from American Classic Screen – The Journal of Americas’ Film Heritage, with permission of the author Father Robert Murphy.
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Printed in Animator Issue 13 (Summer 1985)