Clarence “Ducky” Nash never intended to become the speaking voice for an animated duck. Clarence, who played the voice of Donald Duck for more than 50 years, once explained, “Actually, I wanted to be a doctor; but instead I became the biggest quack in the world.”
Born in Watonga, Oklahoma, on December 7, 1904, Clarence grew up on a farm surrounded by animals, which he imitated for fun. He performed at school talent shows, getting big applause whenever he recited “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in his billy goat voice. After high school, he toured the Midwest as a mandolin player and animal impressionist on the Redpath Chautauqua and Lyceum vaudeville circuit.
By 1930, he moved to Los Angeles and won a spot on The Merry Makers radio show doing animal impressions. This led to a promotional job with a milk company. While working as “Whistling Clarence, the Adohr Birdman,” entertaining children from a traveling milk wagon, he decided to stop by The Walt Disney Studios, where he heard animal cartoons were being produced. Within a few days, Clarence was invited to audition. After Clarence performed his billy goat voice, the casting director reached for the intercom to Walt’s office and said, “I think we found our duck.”
Clarence joined Disney in 1933, when production began on Donald Duck’s debut short, The Wise Little Hen. He went on to portray Donald in five feature films, including Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Fun and Fancy Free, and Melody Time, as well as more than 150 shorts, including Orphan’s Benefit and the Oscar®-winning Der Fuehrer’s Face.
He said his greatest challenge was when cartoons had to be dubbed into foreign languages.
Words were written phonetically in the scripts for Ducky, who later recalled, “I learned to quack in French (‘couac’), Chinese (Yes, Peking Duck!), and German. For some reason, German was the hardest.”
Additionally, Ducky performed the voices of Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie; his duck-friend Daisy; a bullfrog in Bambi; dogs in One Hundred and One Dalmatians; and birds in the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland.
Ducky brought joy to fans by entertaining with a fiberglass Donald Duck ventriloquist doll at school assemblies, hospitals, and orphanages. In 1983, he furnished Donald’s voice for the Oscar-nominated featurette Mickey’s Christmas Carol. He appeared the next year on the Academy Awards®, the CBS television special Donald Duck’s 50th Birthday, and at special Disney theme park celebrations. He also visited the White House, where President Ronald Reagan presented him with a plaque commemorating his unique place in American family entertainment.
Clarence “Ducky” Nash passed away on February 20, 1985, in Los Angeles.