Friday, 21 July 2006

SPEAKING UP FOR DISNEY

With tonight’s broadcast of the third part of my four-part series on BBC Radio 2, Ain’t No Mickey Mouse Music, I was thinking back across almost a quarter of a century and reflecting on how lucky I have been - as a Disney fan-boy - to have met so many of the actors who used their voices to speak on behalf of famous Disney characters.

In 1982, on my very first visit to the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, California, I was wandering round the archives in a state of bleary-eyed wonderment when I suddenly heard an outburst of spluttering and squawking and turned to find myself face to face (or, rather, nose to beak) with Clarence 'Ducky' Nash: the man responsible for the impenetrable vocal tirades of Donald Duck!

'Ducky' Nash was a delightfully wacky character and - after fifty years in the role - thought nothing of holding a conversation with you in 'duckese'! Wanting a memento of such an unexpected encounter, I asked him to sign a Donald comic book that happened to be in my bag and I subsequently managed to get one of my vintage Donald books inscribed by both man and bird!

A few years later, I met Ducky's counterpart, Jimmy MacDonald, who provided the falsetto voice for Mickey Mouse - having inherited the task from Walt Disney himself - and, later still, I found myself interviewing Wayne Allwine, Mickey’s current alter ego (in character, I might add!), along with his wife, Russi Taylor, who squeaks for Minnie Mouse.

The role-call of Disney voice talents whom I have met and interviewed includes Paige O’Hara and Angela Lansbury (Belle and Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast), Jodi Benson (Ariel in The Little Mermaid), Ilene Woods (Cinderella) and Betty Lou Gerson who was the corncrake voice of Cruella De Vil and who - even at the age of 84 - was still as scary as hell!

I have also been very fortunate to have been able to count two Disney voices as special friends…

The first was the late Adriana Caselotti who, with a smile and a song, provided Snow White's operatic trills in Disney’s first animated feature-film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

I had many years of correspondence with Adriana and paid several visits to her curious Hollywood home, which had a wishing well in the front garden! Others made fun of her eccentricities, but I found her a remarkable woman and a true survivor and, one day, I hope to write more about her and the extraordinary way in which she lived her whole life in relation to a film role she had created - without any on-screen credit - way back in 1937.

My second Disney friend is Kathryn Beaumont, who has the singular distinction of being the only actress to portray two Disney heroines: the eponymous Alice in Wonderland and Wendy in Peter Pan.

Kathryn not only spoke and sang for both these characters, she also served as a model, acting out many scenes from the stories in live-action to provide visual inspiration for the artists creating the animation magic.

She was only twelve when Walt signed her up to play two of the most famous children in English Literature and - despite being named a Disney Legend in 1998 - she remains incredibly modest about her involvement with these much-loved Disney classics, perhaps because she has succeeded in having a richly fulfilled life - and living it, for the most part, outside the world of showbusiness.

Although self-effacing about her work for Disney, Kathryn was somehow persuaded to allow me to interview her for Ain’t No Mickey Mouse Music and she makes her own delightful - and insightful - contribution to the series.

Kathryn and her husband Allan are two of my favourite American friends and we’ve spent many happy days together in Los Angeles and London. I especially love this picture of them both in which they're obviously letting the dog (Toby) see the rabbit (Buttons)!


As well as being able to hear Kathryn Beaumont on Mouse Music, you can read more about her career and her time at the Disney studio on this nicely put-together fan site.

2 comments:

polkadotsoph said...

If you ask me, Buttons looks a little nervous in this picture... I think he knows that that dog's intentions are not entirely honourable...

Brian Sibley said...

Actually, that's Buttons' "firm" look...

Toby is a sweetie and Buttons has him very well trained...