Disney’s Unflappable Donald Duck Turns 75

He is the most curmudgeonly character in a star-studded Disney menagerie that includes Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Pluto.

Donald Duck – the irascible but unflappable waterfowl – turned 75 years old on Tuesday.

From the beginning, fabled cartoonist Walt Disney envisioned Donald Duck as a foil to Mickey Mouse, his good-as-gold animated star created a half-dozen years earlier.

While goody-two-shoes Mickey was most appealing to children, Disney sought to create in Donald Duck a more piquant character with adult appeal – and succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

In his 75 years, his feathered anti-hero has tried his hand at more than 100 different professions, but failed at them all. Donald always seems to be short of cash and make a habit of lurching from one misadventure to the next.

But no matter how often thwarted and how deeply humiliated, Donald Duck forges on – which is what has made him such a big hit with his legions of fans.

“He’s a loser, not a quitter, and he’ll go down fighting,” wrote the Disney company in its description of the beloved character on their website.

Known for his barely decipherable speech and his penchant for running afoul of the other Disney characters, Donald, beneath it all, has a heart of gold, another quality that has charmed adoring fans over the decades.

The prickly but long-suffering duck made his celluloid debut on appeared on June 9, 1934, in a short animated feature called Little Wise Hen, a movie fable fashioned on the Little Red Hen fairytale about a chicken who finds that help is scarce when she tries to recruit workers to plant and harvest her corn crop.

He had his first starring role in 1937 as a troubadour in Don Donald, a short film set in Mexico in which he appears with Donna Duck – who shows up in later films re-baptized as his steady sweetheart Daisy.

Over the years, he’s been honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and impressions of his webbed feet grace the sidewalk near Hollywood’s famed Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, alongside Tinseltown’s other top stars.

And – he achievement that probably would please Donald most – he has appeared in 128 films – more than his nemesis Mickey Mouse.

His extended family also has come to have a loyal following, including his trio of rambunctious nephews – Huey, Dewey and Louie – offspring of his sister Della Duck and his crotchety Uncle Scrooge.

Donald’s fame goes clear around the world. Fans know him in Denmark as Anders And, in Indonesia as Donal Bebek and in Italy as Paperino.

While Mickey Mouse often enjoys top billing in the US, in much of Europe – especially among Germans – it is Donald Duck who is the undisputed star.

“Just as the French are obsessed with Jerry Lewis, the Germans see a richness and complexity to the Disney comic that isn’t always immediately evident to people in the cartoon duck’s homeland,” wrote literary critic and translator Susan Bernofsky in the Wall Street Journal last month.

“When it comes to voicing the hidden and not-so-hidden truths and tastes of German society, the philosopher with a beak is hard to beat,” wrote Bernofsky, noting that Donald’s German incarnation – humming Wagner melodies and spouting Schiller poems – is somewhat more philosophical and intellectual than the cartoon character familiar to most Americans.

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