By People Staff
May 18, 1987 12:00 PM

His very distant relative Howard turned into instant duckburger last year in a flurry of bad box office reports, critical declaim and fowl puns. Donald Duck, however, is waddling contentedly into his 53rd year in show business.

In March, hosting an NBC-TV special featuring Disney cartoons, Donald looked the same. He acted the same. He sounded the same, too, though Clarence Nash, who created Donald’s unique quack-speak in 1934 and remained his only voice, died in 1985.

It was not merely luck that enabled Tony Anselmo, now 27, to fill Donald’s sailor cap so quickly. He had spent three years as Nash’s understudy. “Clarence used to walk around the Disney lot talking like Donald,” Anselmo remembers. “I’d make a few sounds and ask, ‘Is this it?’ and he’d answer something like, ‘Nope. A little higher—keep trying.’ ”

Anselmo says it took a year to get Donald’s basic sound—which Nash had originally used as a goat imitation: “It takes exceptional muscle control you develop with practice, the same way you retrain muscles using weights.” He adds that “90 percent of my work is knowing what Donald would or wouldn’t say. I go over all the scripts to see that they are in character.”

Anselmo, who was inspired to get into the cartoon business by seeing Mary Poppins when he was 4, joined the Disney organization as an animator after his junior year at the California Institute of the Arts in 1980. He had done voices as a hobby in school and started working on Donald’s after meeting Nash. Anselmo’s main job for Disney is still animating, for Donald’s gigs as well as feature-length cartoons.

Since Disney stopped producing cartoon short subjects in the ’50s, Donald only appears in such projects as the NBC special and a syndicated series, Duck Tales, scheduled to air in the fall. Not that he’s mellowed. Anselmo describes the character Disney veterans refer to as “the Duck” as “a cocky little guy with a high opinion of himself, who loves to play practical jokes. He can dish it out but he can’t take it.”

Still, Anselmo says, “Donald is my main love.” To which Donald, no doubt, would reply, “Awwwwwwww. Shplizzlish whiffy grizzlitt poofle zivvelly, Tony.” Or quacks to that effect.