Ludwig von Drake, from an animation cel.


Original Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Disney
First Appeared: 1961
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When Walt Disney's variably-named weekly TV show moved from ABC to NBC in 1961, it was more than just a change in venue. For one thing, that's when …

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… the show switched from black and white to color. For another, the first NBC airing introduced a new character, who would (among other things) serve as host and announcer for the compilations of old theatrical cartoons that were to form an increasingly prominent part of the show's offerings. Professor Ludwig von Drake first appeared in An Adventure in Color, which (along with a 1959 Donald Duck short, Donald in Mathmagic Land) aired on September 24, 1961. Von Drake was the first marketable Disney animated character created for television.

The German-accented Professor, whose cachet with the Disney crowd was that he was Donald Duck's uncle, was simultaneously introduced in comic books and in Donald's newspaper strip. In the former, he had a comic of his own, published by Dell Comics, but it lasted only four issues (Nov-Dec, 1961, through June-Aug, 1962). He also appeared in the back pages of Walt Disney's Comics & Stories from January, 1962, through July, 1963.

Von Drake's voice was provided by Paul Frees, who has voiced characters as diverse as Crawford Crow (of The Fox & the Crow), Terrytoons' Dinky Duck, and The Thing (of The Fantastic Four). Probably his best-known role is the bad guy in Rocky & Bullwinkle, Boris Badenov.

The character hosted over a dozen cartoon compilations over the next few years. In several of them, the von Drake footage was later taken out and released as a theatrical cartoon overseas. He also lent his universal expertise to such non-compilation animated offerings as "Three Tall Tales" and "The Truth about Mother Goose" (both 1963). He was even shoehorned into the TV version of Fun & Fancy Free, the feature that has Mickey, Donald and Goofy in "Mickey & the Beanstalk" — he replaced Jiminy Cricket as the emcee. Von Drake also appeared in the Oscar-nominated theatrical release A Symposium of Popular Songs, which was directed by Bill Justice and released in 1962, and which was done in an interesting cut-out technique rather than as traditional cel animation. Much later, he starred in a recurring segment in the mid-1990s half-hour TV cartoon about Donald's nephews as teenagers, Quack Pack.

Ludwig von Drake was never one of Disney's superstars, but became a familiar figure in the Donald Duck newspaper strip, the Disney TV show, and the occasional story in the back pages of a comic book. And so he remains, even today.


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Text ©2001-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Walt Disney Co.