The Unmade Carl Barks Scrooge Shortby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
As tax time once again rolls around, I often wonder if my life would be easier if I had a Money Bin like Scrooge McDuck.
Last year, Scrooge McDuck celebrated the 70th anniversary of his comic book birth ("Christmas on Bear Mountain," 1947), the 50th anniversary of his first animated film appearance (Scrooge McDuck and Money, 1967) and the 30th anniversary of his appearance on a successful television series (DuckTales, 1987).
Talented writer and artist Carl Barks created the character of Scrooge McDuck in 1947 for a Donald Duck story titled Christmas on Bear Mountain (Dell Four Color No. 178). Like many of Barks' creations, Scrooge, the penny-pinching uncle of Donald Duck, was intended as a one-shot character to help springboard an interesting story idea about the Christmas season.
"I always thought of the ducks as people. Like when I named Uncle Scrooge 'Only a Poor Old Man' I never thought of "Only a Poor Old Duck." It wouldn't have had the meaning. You wouldn't think of a multimillionaire duck. But a Man with multimillions—you can associate the money with the man!" Barks recalled.
Scrooge was inspired by the miserly character from Charles Dickens's classic A Christmas Carol; and in this first story was old and fragile and lonesome. It was a far cry from the fellow who made his fortune by "being tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties" that he would later become in the classic comic book stories.
He is Scottish because of the stereotype of Scots being thrifty. Of course, others claim that Scottish-born industrialist Andrew Carnegie was an inspiration for the character as well.
By 1952, Scrooge had become such a popular character that he was appearing in his own best-selling book length stories that have become classics of storytelling and character development.
At the height of his popularity in the 1950s, he came to the attention of the Disney Studios where Jack Hannah was the director in charge of the "Duck" unit and turning out memorable Donald Duck short theatrical cartoons.
"We did consider Scrooge McDuck for use in a short," Hannah told me in in 1978. "I recall vaguely somebody thinking that a character that went wild over money wasn't funny. I remember discussing this with somebody and we felt that the greed for money seemed to be the reason we didn't use Scrooge. You couldn't get a good story out of it for a short.
"It was at the time that we were also stopping production on the shorts so that ended any further discussion," he said. "Even though he was very funny in comic book form, we decided he wasn't strong enough at the time."
Author and noted Disney historian Michael Barrier introduced me and much of the rest of the world to Carl Barks beginning around 1967. While Barks' talent, especially on the Disney ducks, is well deserving of attention, he was virtually unknown by name until the thoughtful articles of Barrier.
Barrier also discovered during his research at the Disney Archives when it was still open to credible scholars outside the Disney company that, at one point in 1955, there was the possibility that Barks would write an Uncle Scrooge theatrical short.
Unfortunately, this was also the time period when Disney was severely cutting back on producing animated shorts. In 1955, only four new animated shorts were released. All the others were re-releases. Before the end of the decade the Duck unit was disbanded and Hannah, along with most of his crew, moved over to working on cartoons for Walter Lantz.
"The emphasis at the Disney Studio was being taken off the shorts and animation in general. At the time, a lot of cartoon studios were finding it too expensive a process and had to stop cartoon production completely, except for Walter Lantz who worked a strict system that worked if he kept it in budget," Hannah recalled.
Ken Peterson joined Disney in 1936 as an assistant animator and, by the early 1940s, was the head of the Art Department. He was the production supervisor on several films, including Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, and Sleeping Beauty.
In January 1955, he had phoned Barks to see what his status was doing comic book work for Western Publishing and if he were free to submit a possible story for a cartoon short using Uncle Scrooge, since Barks had been a former Disney storyman on Donald Duck. He followed up with a letter on January 4 and Barks responded several days later with a nine-page script that no longer can be found in the Disney Archives.
However, in a letter dated January 10, 1955, Barks summarized the story.
The short is meant to contrast Donald Duck's seemingly carefree life as a worker at Scrooge's Money Bin while Scrooge himself, because of his obsession with money, lives a stressful life.
As the cartoon begins, Donald Duck is in his comfy bed, surrounded by every modern convenience. When the alarm rings, he simply presses a few buttons, and his breakfast is cooked for him at his bedside. He doesn't even have to get up to eat.
He rides to work and the narrator points out that he is covered by insurance if he gets sick and that another type of insurance will care for him if he loses his job.
At the Money Bin, Donald operates a money sorting machine but it is so efficient that all he has to do is just sit and monitor the activity as the coins drops out of various pipes into the machine and then into their respective tubes to a musical accompaniment.
Scrooge is a stern boss who fusses over his ledgers while keeping one ear listening to make sure the off-stage plunking of coins is continuing at a steady rhythm. He makes sure that Donald does not leave one second before the noon lunch bell.
Donald collects his morning wages as he leaves for lunch and rushes to a car dealer down the street where he puts part of the money toward a down payment on a shiny little red sports car. He eats lunch at a dining car café that is crowded, noisy, and filled with happy people. The cook says that happy, unworried people have better digestions.
By contrast, Scrooge hunches over his desk eating a meager meal of crackers and cheese that he bought at a bargain price. He comforts himself that he saves his money and now has three cubic acres of it. However, he is distracted from his lunch by news on the radio of a plague of rats loose in the city.
Scrooge fears the rats could get into his Money Bin and eat up billions of dollars of paper money. A frantic Scrooge shutters all the windows and bolts the door. He sits back down to finish his lunch but is confronted with a determined rat who has smelled the cheese.
The rat rattles the shutters, bangs the door and tries by various gag means to get inside. Scrooge gulps his meal hurriedly. The rat does indeed get in and a series of humorous interactions finally ends with Scrooge cornering the rat and cocking his gun to dispatch the pest.
The clever rat holds up a $10,000 bill in front of it as protection and when Scrooge looks down the gun barrel and sees the denomination on the bill, he hesitates in fear. He turns the gun around to use as a club and the rodent sticks the bill between the teeth as a threat to shred it. The rat gestures toward the cheese and a defeated Scrooge gets him some in exchange for the bill.
However, the rat overplays its hand by turning down a variety of cheeses as too cheap for his refined taste. Scrooge has to order the most expensive cheese in the world, Odora De Pungento, which must be brought from a secret mountain cave in an armored car and served to the rat on a velvet cushion accompanied by trumpet fanfare.
As the rat prepares to feast, Scrooge uses his adding machine to all up how much all of this is costing him and it totals to $10,000.01. He snatches the cheese away from the rat and tells the cheese men who brought it to take it back because it is cheaper to let the rat eat the money.
Scrooge explodes in a wild fit, much like Donald Duck, and the rat escapes. Donald comes back from his lunch content, stuffed and cheerful. Scrooge hiccups and drinks a bicarbonate of soda.
The moral being: enjoy your life and if you are consumed with the love of money, you will be bilious.
Certainly, this story needs work and doesn't showcase the Scrooge that most comic book readers fell in love with as the tough adventurer whose love of money was closely tied to the memories of obtaining every coin.
In fact, when Barks visited the studio later that month, he saw that the storymen had not used this story premise but come up with their own story of Scrooge and Donald.
Peterson told Barks, in a letter on February 14, 1955. that they might still be interested in his script. On May 6, 1955, Peterson returned Barks script and told him that the studio was moving more into television and away from theatrical shorts.
Barks later told Barrier that reviewing the script that it just did not have enough action and even jazzing it up with a flood of rats wouldn't have helped. In fact, adding more rats would have added significantly to the cost of animation. He never used the story as a basis for a comic book story.
However, Barks' vision of Scrooge did finally become a reality.
In 1985, Michael Eisner announced that, "The time has come for Walt Disney Pictures ... to be a competitor on network television and to participate in improving the quality of our children's programs for our present generation of children."
Disney entered the Saturday morning cartoon arena with two series, The Wuzzles and The Gummi Bears, which ended up playing opposite each other on different networks. The major surprise was that Disney farmed out the animation overseas to TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha). Still, the shows were well received by critics, although only The Gummi Bears survived that first season.
Disney then decided to invade the more lucrative market of syndicated animation, but they didn't want to risk their top-of-the-line characters so they looked for supporting characters who might have a connection with a more popular Disney star. At the time, original live-action shows had been successful in syndication, but original animated shows had not yet proven to be as successful.
Scrooge and his nephews were selected for the first project with Donald Duck being sent away to service in the Navy so that the nephews could be left in care of his rich uncle. The adventures, inspired by the Scrooge adventure stories by Barks, seemed like a natural inspiration for some action-packed stories.
"Barks was never really consulted," stated Tom Ruzicka, associate producer of DuckTales, in a 1987 interview when the show premiered. "Although the show was initially based on the concept of doing Scrooge McDuck and the nephews, we discovered that a lot of stuff that made wonderful comics wouldn't translate into the '80s or into animation. So we started evolving new characters and other things to contemporize the show. As we did that, the stories got further and further away from the comics, although a few episodes are lifted right out of them."
Those Barks-inspired episodes include loose adaptations of "The Giant Robot Robbers," "The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan," "Micro Ducks From Outer Space," "Back to the Klondike," "The Golden Fleecing," and "The Great Steamboat Race" among other classic stories.
Story editor Jymn Magon claimed that "With DuckTales, we wanted to get into a gutsier story sense. Our focus was on adventure and I think it shows."
The original concept was for the show to be an hour long with a separate segment featuring a new character named Launchpad McQuack. However, when Disney learned that it was difficult to sell an hour-long series in syndication, they cut the show to the traditional half-hour common in syndicated series. By then, Launchpad had developed as a popular character and so was incorporated into the final cast.
Instead of Daisy Duck's nieces April, May and June, there was a new female character called Webbigail (Webby) who was the granddaughter of Mrs. Beakley, the nephews' governess. Rounding out the final cast was Duckworth, Scrooge's manservant.
Alan Young was once again brought in to do the voice of Scrooge as he had in Mickey's Christmas Carol. Russi Taylor, better known as the voice of Minnie Mouse, provided the voices for all of the nephews. Over the course of the series, incredible voice actors supplied their talents including Chuck McCann, Joan Gerber, June Foray, Hal Smith, Frank Welker, Rob Paulsen, and Will Ryan.
Barks' characters including Magica De Spell, Flintheart Glomgold, and the Beagle Boys popped up.
The famous Beagle Boys were now given names for the first time like Big Time, Burger, Bouncer, and Baggy where in the Barks' comics they only had prison numbers. Other Beagles followed in the "B" tradition including Backbite, Bankshot, Baron Von, Bushwack, and Baffling.
When questioned about using TMS rather than the Disney Studio for the animation of Scrooge and the nephews, Bob Jacquemin, then senior vice president of marketing for Buena Vista Productions stated, "This system will enable us to produce a considerably higher quality product than can be found in the syndication market today." (Cuckoo's Nest Studios and Wang Film Productions of Taiwan eventually also supplied animation for the series.)
Michael Webster, vice president of television animation for Disney, emphasized that, "It is no cheaper for us to do it over there, but they have a talent pool of fantastic draftsmen that we don't. We have some talented artists over here, but nowhere near enough to handle the massive amounts of footage we need. And the work ethic in Japan is phenomenal.
"They all work six-day weeks, and probably at least 10-hour days. Some of them work all night. I've gone into the studio in the morning and seen guys sleeping under their desks; it's unbelievable."
Duck Tales premiered with a two-hour special on Sept. 18, 1987 in 150 markets covering 93 percent of the country. Originally created as a two and half hour five part serial, the story was edited down to a two-hour version titled Treasure of the Golden Suns.
Each episode was budgeted at $300,000 and Disney was planning on risking more than $20 million on the series. The regular series began on September 21 and the success of the series opened the floodgates for Disney to invade the world of animation syndication.
DuckTales: The Movie: The Secret of the Lost Lamp, a theatrical film based on the TV show, was released on Aug. 3, 1990.
In 1988, the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort built a short-lived replica of Duckburg, complete with Scrooge's statue of Duckburg's founder, Cornelius Coot, and a sign listing McDuck as president of the "Billionaire's Club." On Oct. 22, 1991, Barks received the Disney Legends Award. He was escorted by Disneyland's costumed Uncle Scrooge.
"No man is poor who can do what he likes to do once in a awhile! And I like to dive around in my money like a porpoise! And burrow through it like a gopher! And toss it up and let it hit me on the head!"—Scrooge McDuck in the comic book story "Only a Poor Old Man" (March 1952) written by Carl Barks.