How Donald Duck helped win Second World War – and beat Mickey to the job

August 30th, 2015

A BBC Radio 4 documentary is to explore how Disney helped the Allied war effort with a series of films dedicated to educating Americans on what they could do to help at home.

Other films showed public information such as how to collect war bonds, and attempted to explain how Nazis were indoctrinated.

The documentary, presented by former Disney cartoonist Gerald Scarfe and to be broadcast on September 2, will explore the question: “Why did Donald Duck get drafted?”

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It has been made to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, and will interview historians as well as featuring archive audio from Clarence Nash, the original voice of Donald.

The final show will detail how Walt Disney Studios helped the US government spread their messages by using favourite cartoon characters in newly-created films.

They included The Spirit Of 43, which saw Donald praise the benefits of income tax, The Fuhrer’s Face, in which Donald has a nightmare he works in a Nazi artillery factory, and Commando Duck, in which he destroys a Japanese command base.

“He was a duck who was very typical of an American,” said Clarence Nash, in a clip featured on the show. “He would express his opinions real well, you know?”

Brian Sibley, who has written books on Disney and Mickey Mouse, told the programme: “Mickey Mouse was very important to Disney. It was his lucky talisman, he’d built a studio really on the back of the success he’d had with Mickey Mouse.

“I don’t think he wanted him tarnished, really, with having him involved in propaganda.

“Certainly not the way in which Donald Duck was involved.

“He was irascible, he was apt to fly off the handle, lose his temper.

If you wanted a character to stand up to Hitler, you couldn’t have one better than Donald Duck.

“Mickey was always used for slightly more reserved roles. He would be an ARP warden with a tin hat, telling people to ‘put that light out’. That kind of thing.”

At the time, the use of Donald was described as the equivalent of “MGM giving Clark Gable”. Polls shortly afterwards found 37 per cent of the American public did indeed feel more inspired to pay their taxes.

Disney himself is said to have been inspired to contribute after serving as an ambulance driver in First World War France, fibbing about his age.

He was rumoured to have been put on Hitler’s “personal hit list” as a result of the studio’s wartime efforts.

A Radio 4 spokesman said: “This documentary explores how the iconic Californian studio became a war plant in the 1940s, which churned out ground-breaking military training films and propaganda shorts, educational posters and leaflets, along with insignias for troops to help boost morale on the frontline.”

The programme will be broadcast on Radio 4 on Wednesday, September 2 at 11am.


World War Two

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