The Donald Duck Story

The above statement, published in an issue of DISNEY NEWS, the studio magazine, remains as the most mythical of all the claims to Donalds creation but, judging by Donald’s irascible nature, is probably the most appropriate. It is however, pure Disney legend.

As I have previously mentioned, the inspiration for Donald’s voice came from an animal impersonator named Clarence Nash, who used to promote the Adohr Milk Company by driving a miniature milk wagon pulled by miniature horses. Adohr discovered Nash just as Disney did, performing on a radio show called the Merry Makers, and several years later in order to placate a friend who hadn’t heard his performance for quite a while, he agreed to do a free act on the same programme. By pure chance, Disney heard Nash’s performance and immediately realised its cartoon potential, but for some reason, presumably absentmindedness, Disney neglected to contact the radio company about their voice-artist and the idea was left dormant. Fortunately for Disney and mankind, however, Nash happened to be passing the Disney studio on Hyperon Avenue and, partly because his friends had once urged him to try his luck at an interview there, knocked on the door and gained an interview on the spot with director Wilfred Jackson. Nash went through his complete repertoire of impersonations with slight response from his one-man audience but when he came to the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” routine, unbeknownst to him, Jackson secretly flicked the switch that operated the intercom through to Walt’s office. No sooner had Disney heard Nash’s recitation than he was rushing out of his office declaring “Stop! Stop! That’s our talking duck, you’re Donald Duck!” and a star was born. The talking duck was first put to use in a successful SILLY SYMPHONY cartoon called THE WISE LITTLE HEN (1934) in which an anthropomorphised mother hen is met with dramatic refusals from both Peter Pig and Donald Duck when she requests help with planting her corn. She eventually pays the two loafers back for their indolence by feeding them with a dose of castor oil, provoking an endless stream of squawked curses from the irate Donald. The new character bears many primeval similarities to the later Donald and the duck’s fondness for the easy life and tendency to become overtly disgruntled whenever something doesn’t Suit him. Apparently, the character who debuted with the immortal dialogue of “Who me? Oh no, I got a bellyache”, was quite a success even at this stage and continued to throw fits and tantrums in a good many Mickey Mouse cartoons to come. Like Mickey, Donald also appeared on a wide variety of themed merchandise, utilising every product imaginable, from orange juice to succotash, from wind—up toys to watches.


Donald has developed into one of the most interesting screen comic. The audience always likes him, provided he plays true to his own character. His best features are his cocky, show-off, boastful attitude that turns to anger as soon as he is crossed; his typical angry gestures with which the audience is familiar, especially his fighting pose and his peculiar quacking voice and threats when angry… The duck gets a big kick out of imposing on other people or annoying them; but immediately loses his temper when the tables are turned. In other words, he can ‘dish it out’ but he can’t ‘take it’.
-FRED SPENCER (animator)

Copyright Walt Disney Productions

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