His parents wanted him to be a doctor. Instead, Clarence Nash became a quack—but what a quack. This week Donald Duck celebrates his 50th birthday, and Nash, who provides Donald’s voice, will celebrate 50 years as the Man Behind the Duck.
Now 79 and a great-grandfather five times over, he remains proud of a career founded on fowl language. Why? Simple, says the diminutive (5’2″) and gentle Nash: “I’ve enjoyed giving pleasure to so many people.” Donald’s five movies and 150 cartoons have long since made Nash a cult figure. While he was promoting Donald’s anniversary at Disney World recently, one woman flung her arms around him and cooed, “I want to love you all over!” Wise-quacks Nash: “I think she had had a few drinks.”
Nash, who grew up in Independence, Mo.—and says he knew that town’s leading citizen, Harry Truman, “very well”—didn’t always imitate ducks. He started, as a teenager, imitating the vocalizations of his pet goat and gradually expanded his barnyard impressions to include a variety of bleats and whistles. That landed him work on the vaudeville circuit. In 1928 he moved to L.A. and got a job doing bird calls on a dairy wagon, and he also occasionally performed on radio. Walt Disney, who was scouting for a voice for his new duck, heard a broadcast and invited Nash to audition. According to legend, Disney cried, “That’s our talking duck!” and the rest is history. Donald’s first film, The Wise Little Hen, premiered June 9, 1934, and Nash’s voice became the quack heard round the world.
Although “Ducky” Nash hasn’t worked in movies since a bit part in last year’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol, he stands ready and willing to speak for his fine feathered alter ego at a moment’s notice. “This is my life’s work,” says Nash. “This is what I was meant to do.”