Monday, 8 June 2009

MOUSE MEMORIES

Having said, earlier today, that I would be reducing the number of postings on this blog, I hadn't expected to post twice in one day! However...

I wanted to tell readers that today's Guardian carries my obituary to Wayne Allwine (left), the voice of Mickey Mouse.

I wrote this piece three weeks ago and it has been waiting in the newspaper's equivalent of the morgue until there was a chance to finally lay it to rest in print. Since I had an even longer wait for the appearance in The Independent of my recent obituary to actor, Peter Dennis, it would seem that far too many people dying right now!

Anyway... Outside the world of Disney, most people won't have heard of Wayne Allwine, but everyone, of course, has heard of the character to whom he lent his voice.

Mickey Mouse is, arguable, the most famous animated character of all time (partly because in addition to a significant film career dating back to the first-ever sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie in 1928) the Mouse became the iconic symbol of one of America's most enduring and successful corporations.

During Mickey's 80-year career he was only ever offically spoken for by three people: firstly Walt Disney who, despite having a natural baritone voice, decided to give his creation an excitably high-pitched falsetto.

Disney continued provided Mickey's voice (and, in the very early days, the voice of Minnie as well) until 1947 when - halfway though working on the 'Mickey and the Beanstalk' sequence in the feature film, Fun and Fancy Free - he handed over the task to Jimmy MacDonald who was responsible for the studio's audio post-production department and provided numerous voices and sound effects for Disney cartoons.

MacDonald carried out Mickey's vocal duties for another thirty years until, in 1977, the role passed to his protégé in the sound department, Wayne Allwine. Here they are: master and apprentice...



Wayne began voicing the Mouse in various TV shows as well speaking for the character when he made his big screen comeback in 1983 in Mickey's Christmas Carol.


I first met Wayne, together with his mentor, Jim MacDonald, in 1988 at a 60th birthday-bash for Mickey in Disneyland. I was struck by his modest, self-effacing charm, lively wit and his obvious sense of pride in playing a role that was known and loved throughout the world.


It was some years later that we met again when I was making a couple of radio series for the BBC: Ain't No Mickey Mouse Business, which explored the commercial history of the Mouse Factory, and Disney's Women, examining the role of women in Disney's life and the female characters in his films.

On these programmes I had the sheer joy of twice interviewing Wayne (in character as Mickey) with Russi Taylor, who had taken on the role of Minnie Mouse and had subsequently become Mrs Wayne Allwine. Since the studio has always maintained that - despite their advancing years - Mickey and Minnie were still just boy-and-girl-friends it was initially a source of some concern that the characters voices were getting wed. What if the Mice were to end up in the divorce court? What would that do to the reputation of the characters for whom they spoke? Their relationship became referred to as "The love that dares not squeak its name".

Anyone who encountered the Allwines would have been in no doubt that the couple were totally devoted to one another as well as to the heritage of the company for whom they worked and the characters they portrayed.

When Wayne and Russi began ad-libbing as Mickey and Minnie, it was impossible not to be caught up in their infectious sense of fun and - suspending disbelief - imagine yourself talking, in person, to those famous mice. It was, in fact, almost impossible to conduct an interview without collapsing in paroxysms of laughter at their hilarious repartee.

I last met the Allwines in 2001 (on the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth), when I interviewed the couple beside World Showcase Lagoon in Epcot, Walt Disney World. At the end of our session, I left them sitting on a bench side-by-side, hand-in-hand gazing out across the Lagoon, clearly blissfully happy in each other's company and in the fantasy kingdom where they worked.

Here's the photograph of Wayne and Russi at last year's Disney Legends ceremony which accompanied my obituary in the paper, though not on-line...


...and you can read my tribute in full at Guardian.co.uk, although, sadly, it doesn't end in quite the way I had intended.

As you will see, it concludes with the words: "Allwine is survived by his wife, and by two daughters and three sons from an earlier marriage." But, as submitted, it went on "...and by a mouse who is, temporarily, lost for words."

And I'll leave you - and say farewell to Wayne - with his performance (alongside Russi's Minnie) in the 1995 short cartoon, Runaway Brain...



5 comments:

SharonM said...

Oops - at first I thought I was going to see 'Runaway Brian'.

I'm known for my Mickey mouse impersonations - do you think I should apply for the job?

Mind you, I'd hope that the cartoons wouldn't be as scary as that one.

scb said...

What a wonderful tribute, both in The Guardian, and in your blog -- but I so wish they had left in your original final line. That is the line that brought the tears to my eyes, and I know it would have touched the hearts of Guardian readers as well.

scb said...

P.S. I hope it's alright that I linked to this post in my own small tribute to the voice of the Mouse. I also included an audio clip of my own "now it's time to say goodbye...", but the audiofile is still being processed...

Andy J. Latham said...

Thanks for posting this Brian, I know very little of Mickey voicers beyond Disney himself. How cool is that video of the guys doing their stuff? :)

Brian Sibley said...

SHARON - But, sweetie, you a GIRL!!

SCB - Thanks for linking to my blog and what a nice idea to record the 'Mickey Mouse Alma Mater'...

ANDY - Jimmy and Wayne were both great guys and managed to be serious about 'taking the Mickey' without compromising (if it doesn't sound too grand) the Mouse's integrity.