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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Talking with the Duck

On Saturday January 22nd, we had the pleasure of listening to the Voice of Donald Duck – Disney Legend:  Tony Anselmo talking about how he became the voice of one of Walt Disney’s more beloved and most irascible character.

One this occasion we had the pleasure of witnessing Donna Tuggle’s (WDFM Director of Visitor Experience and Interpretation) take on her first duties as the discussion moderator.  I think, and believe most in attendance would agree, she did a marvelous job.  I do hope Donna decides to do panel moderations more often, she is really very good at it, and appeared very natural and comfortable.  In attendance as Tony’s special guests were the Daughter and Granddaughter of Disney Legend and the creator of Donald’s most distinctive voice – Clarence “Ducky” Nash.  Also in attendance as a regular audience member, several of us were surprise when we saw Harrison Ellenshaw, son of Disney Legend;  Peter Ellenshaw, a prior presenter at the Museum, and a fine artist in his own right.

As Tony entered the theater, after Donna’s introduction, we were all greeted by one of the most distinctive voices in the Disney stable of animated characters… Probably more accurately in world of animated characters, and Tony was greeted by a resounding round of applause.

Tony’s first Disney experience was when his father took him to see “Mary Poppins” at the age of 4.  He was completely enthralled with the combination of live-action and animation used in the movie.  Upon leaving the theater he kept asking his Dad, “How’d they do that?”  That began a lifelong fascination with animation, and him spend all the time he could to learn it, even taking night classes and writing to several of Walt Disney’s veteran animators know as the “Nine Old Men” receiving encouraging responses in return.  At the age of 16 Tony had created a portfolio of art that he took to the Disney Studio.  While receiving very encouraging reviews, it was recommended that he take courses are CalArts to round out his talents.  Learning of this recommendation, Tony informed the reviewers that his father wanted him to attend business school, and he couldn’t afford to attend CalArts on his own.  He was asked to leave the room for a moment, and upon his return learned that he was to receive a Disney Family Fellowship.  So as Tony told us, “The Disney Family paid for my educations.”

After attending CalArts for a couple of years, Tony was invited to attend the “Disney School of Animation”. The Disney School of Animation was a training program at the Studio, set up by Ron Miller, to teach the a new generation of animators the techniques and skills learned be preceding the previous generations of Disney masters.  The school was mentored by such animation luminaries as Eric Larson, Walt Stanchfield, and Jack Hannah.  In Tony’s class of 14 included the future notable talents of Joe Ranft and Tim Burton.  As a animation artist for Disney, Tony worked on animated features such as The Black Cauldron – as an assistant animator, and The Little Mermaid – as a character animator. 

Tony has been the voice of Donald Duck since 1985, but how did he become the voice? 

Donald’s voice was originally created by Clarence “Ducky” Nash in the 1930’s when Clarence came to audition a few of the voices he’d been doing for the children on his route as a Adohr Milk Delivery Driver.  None of the voices were making much of an impression, until Clarence did a goat character of his.  The voice of Donald Duck was born, and for the next 50 years “Ducky” was that voice.

On his first day at the Studio, Tony met Clarence for the first time during a tour of the archive.  Clarence was there doing some research, and when the tour entered, they were greeted by Donald Duck (or the voice of Donald), and expressed an interest in how to do Donald’s voice.  Clarence began teaching Tony how Donald’s voice was done, and Tony admitted that he couldn’t do it at first.  He told us that, unlike other character voices, you don’t use your voice box to produce the voice.  You take in as much air as possible and create the voice as you exhale.  There are actually some words that cannot be reproduced using this technique, so you must find other ways or words to say the same thing.  Over time Tony began to get the voice, and would ask Clarence when I saw him, “How’s this?”  It got to the point where Clarence would come around to see how Tony was progressing, asking how Tony would do this or that, and offering tips.  Tony wasn’t sure why Ducky was so interested in his progress, but enjoyed the attention none the less.  As time progressed Tony and Clarence developed a close friendship through their love of the Duck.  Early in 1985, Tony was told that Clarence was at St Joseph’s (cross the street from the studio lot) and wanted to see him.  It was then that he found out that Clarence was suffering from leukemia, and at age of 80 the diagnosis was not good.  Tony also discovered that he would be taking over the responsibility for voicing Donald.  It was easy to tell from Tony’s voice that he would have gladly given up that opportunity to keep his friend “Ducky.”

Tony let us know that in his view, one of his most important responsibilities, or a responsibility for any voice actor for that matter, is to fight for the character.  By this, he said you need to speak up when a writer creates line that you know your character wouldn’t say, instead, trying to come up with lines appropriate to the character.  Mickey and his Pals have had the benefit of having just such voices in their corners over the years, and Tony attributes the lasting affection for these characters, in part, to these champions that have voiced the characters.  The choice calling them champions is mine, not Tony’s, but I do think he’d approve of the choice.

While, I could write much more about Tony and the Duck, I will finish up for now.  But I am considering doing a Legends series in the future, so I may have more for you later.  I will leave with a little something I learn while on line for the signing after the session.  As Tony was signing my D23 – 75th Anniversary Donald Duck pin box, I mentioned that Donald has always been my favorite of the Fab Four or Five or whatever it is they call them now.  Tony confirmed something I’ve always felt.  He told me that the old timers at Disney don’t call them the Fab Four, its Mickey and his Pal, or Mickey and his Gang.  He said that the Fab Four has and always will be the Beatles.  Good to know…

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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