Jimmy Macdonald was a one-man sound effects wizard. Over his 48-year career with Disney, he created and assembled one of the largest and most impressive sound effects libraries in motion picture history. Beginning in 1934, he added extra dimension to all of Disney’s animated shorts and features including even more current offerings such as the Mouseworks television series. He also worked on the soundtracks for most of the Studio’s live-action films up through the mid-1980s. But perhaps most notable to fans was his greatest role: that of Mickey Mouse, to whom Jimmy gave voice from 1946 until 1977.
Born John James Macdonald in Dundee, Scotland, on May 19, 1906, Jimmy came to the United States when he was only a month old. He grew up in the Philadelphia area and received a correspondence school degree in engineering before moving to California in 1927. His first job was with the Burbank Engineering Department.
In 1934, he was playing drums and percussion for the Dollar Steamship Lines when the band, in between cruises, was called to the Disney Studios to record for a Mickey Mouse short. Jimmy stayed on to work in the newly formed Disney Sound Effects Department, doing vocal effects and cartoon voices.
His voice repertoire included yodeling, whistling, and sneezing for the Dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, barks for Pluto, and, on many occasions, the excitable, high-pitched voices of Chip and Dale.
Rarely was there a sound Jimmy could not make with one of the more than 500 innovative Rube Goldberg-like contraptions that he built from scratch. He could create sounds as obscure as a spider web shimmering or a friendly bumblebee washing up before supper. Animator and Disney Legend Xavier Atencio once recalled, “If he couldn’t get a particular sound he wanted from one of those gizmos, Jimmy would do it with his mouth.”
In 1946, Walt Disney handpicked Jimmy to be his successor as the official voice of Mickey Mouse, beginning with the “Mickey and the Beanstalk” segment of Fun and Fancy Free. Jimmy provided the famed mouse’s familiar falsetto on all film and television projects up until the late 1970s.
On screen, Jimmy was the silhouetted figure of a timpani player in Fantasia. Four decades later, in 1982, he assisted conductor and Disney Legend Irwin Kostal in the digital re-recording of that film. As an original member of the popular jazz group, “The Firehouse Five Plus Two,” Jimmy played drums and made several Disney television appearances in the 1950s. In the live-action film arena, he supplied sound effects for everything from the Academy Award®-wining True-Life Adventures series up through The Black Hole in 1979. For the 1977 animated feature The Rescuers, he came out of retirement to provide sounds for the feisty dragonfly, Evinrude.
Jimmy Macdonald passed away on February 1, 1991, in Los Angeles.