Q: How did it happen that Disney, famous for guarding copyright, happen to lend Mickey Mouse’s short tempered sidekick to a football team in Eugene?
A: In 1947 Walt Disney himself made a handshake deal with Leo Harris, the first U of O athletic director. After Walt’s death, Disney lawyers contested the legality of the arrangement.
Here’s the photo which U of O used to prove that Walt gave informed consent. That’s Walt, wearing a Duck jacket, on the right.
But where did the Duck come from? Walt said he introduced Donald after Mickey Mouse, domesticated by the love of millions, lost his mischievous edge.
How bad is Donald? He started off just lazy. His short temper came later. Here’s Donald’s “Bad Boy” debut ( around 2:05):
For animation history nerds, yes, that’s Oregonian Pinto Colvig voicing Peter Pig (around 1:09).
For comic book history nerds, there is another Oregon connection.
In 1942, Oregonian Carl Barks collaborated with Jack Hannah on the first Donald Duck comic book, Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. Barks continued to draw and write Donald in comic books, populating an entire world (called Duckberg) in an tour de force series which now is internationally revered. The most unabashed fan of Barks’ intensely imagined Donald Duck comic books is underground cartoonist and professional outsider R. Crumb, who continually cites early exposure to them as a formative influence .
Crumb adores a second Oregon cartoonist, Basil Wolverton, but that’s another story, for another post.
Other strange but true facts about Donald Duck:
He is more popular outside the US than in. In some countries he has been accorded supernatural powers, and his name translates to “Super Duck”.
I haven’t read Ariel Dorfman’s How To Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in Disney Comics, but he might explain this phenomenon.
I have no explanation for why Walt Disney decided to give Donald Duck, gratis, to the University of Oregon. It is one of the greatest things about living in Oregon, that everything around you doesn’t quite make sense.
This post brought to you by Oregon Cartoon Institute, your source for Oregon animation and cartooning history since 2006.