Uncle Scrooge's Triple Anniversary

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

Uncle Scrooge's Triple Anniversary

"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.

"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!" -Carl Barks, creator of Uncle Scrooge.

There are many Disney anniversaries to celebrate in 2007, although Disney doesn't seem to be doing much to celebrate them, so the Disney Company probably needs a good Disney historian to remind them. Among others, this year the Zorro television series celebrates its 50th birthday and Snow White is celebrating its 70th birthday.

However, one Disney character is actually celebrating three anniversaries in 2007. Scrooge McDuck is celebrating the 60th anniversary of his comic book birth ("Christmas on Bear Mountain" 1947), the 40th anniversary of his first animated film appearance ("Scrooge McDuck and Money" 1967) and the 20th anniversary of his appearance on a successful television series ("Duck Tales" 1987).

For a December 1947 comic book, talented writer and artist Carl Barks created the character of Scrooge McDuck for a Donald Duck story entitled "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.

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 Studio where Jack Hannah was the director in charge of the "Duck" unit and turning out memorable Donald Duck cartoons.

"We did consider Scrooge McDuck for use in a short," Hannah stated in 1978 in an interview with Disney historian Jim Korkis that is reprinted in the first volume of Walt's People. "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. It was at the time that we were also stopping production on the shorts so that ended any further discussion. Even though he was very funny in comic book form, we decided he wasn't strong enough at the time."

While that reaction may surprise some people, those folks who know Disney history know that the very last short cartoon that Walt Disney personally directed was "The Golden Touch" (1935). Walt was going to use that Silly Symphony cartoon about the story of King Midas who could turn anything to gold to show the rest of the staff how a cartoon should be done.

In fact, Walt set himself up for success by pulling in Fred Moore and Norm Ferguson, two of the top animators at the Disney Studio at the time, to do the animation. The result was a flat, unmemorable cartoon and any discussion of it in later years would irritate Walt to the extent that he yelled at one animator to never mention the cartoon again if he wanted to continue working at the Studio.

One of the problems in the cartoon was that Walt never seemed to understand whether Midas was a greedy despot who got his comeuppance or a bumbling fool who got in over his head. In either case, he couldn't seem to come up with interesting gags surrounding gold nor why someone would be so obsessed with a fortune.

Walt's experience on this cartoon might have influenced the Studio's opinion of Scrooge, even though the character's love of money was never for its intrinsic value but because of the stories and memories behind each coin and as a symbol of Scrooge's cleverness and hard work at making his fortune on the "square" and through hard work.

Although he makes a brief cameo appearance in the opening credits of the original Mickey Mouse Club, Scrooge didn't make his official animated film debut until 1967. Scrooge starred in an educational short with Huey, Dewey and Louie titled "Scrooge McDuck and Money" released March 23,1967. Interestingly, Barks retired from drawing his duck stories in 1966.

The film was written by Bill Berg, directed by Ham Luske and featured animation by Ward Kimball and Julius Svendsen among others. In fact, it has been reported that Kimball was involved with the redesign of the character, making him look more like Ludwig Von Drake, because the Studio felt that Barks' design would have been difficult to animate.

The Technicolor cartoon ran almost 17 minutes. The Scottish accent of Scrooge was provided by an enthusiastic Bill Thompson, the well-remembered Disney voice man who also supplied the voices for Mr. Smee in Peter Pan, the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and ranger J. Audubon Woodlore in the Donald Duck cartoons.

Mel Leven wrote the music and lyrics for the songs including "Bonnie Columns," "It's Gotta Circulate," "Billion Dollars," "Balancing the Budget" and "The Remarkable Sum of $1.95."

"Since Scrooge is a little Scot duck, some of the music had a bagpipe drone in the background for extra flavor. At other times, it had a brassy, fast moving sound like money moving from hand to hand and circulating through an economy," claimed Leven just before the short was released. The singing group the Mellomen backed up Scrooge's vocals.

The storyline had the three nephews showing up at Scrooge's money bin and eventually discovering how they could become as wealthy as Scrooge himself. When they arrive, Scrooge is dancing between stacks of money and hugging and kissing his fortune. The nephews have brought their piggy bank with a $1.95 in it for Scrooge to save for them so they can become rich.

This offer launches Scrooge into an illustrated, singing lecture about budgets, inflation, the history of money and the vastness of actual wealth. At the end of the lecture, he explains that they have invested their money wisely but there will be a $.03 fee for his time and consultation.

"Nothing good is ever free," he smiles.

A Gold Key comic book adaptation of the short was published March 1967. The comic, with a still from the cartoon on the cover, was a very loose 14-page adaptation of the film by writer Don Christensen and artist Tony Strobl. In fact the ending with Scrooge resorting to an instant carnival to regain a lost $1,000 is entirely different. The rest of the comic book is filled with a 10-page reprint by Barks ("The Trouble With Dimes"), and several one-page informational pages about the history of money.

"Scrooge McDuck and Money" was designed primarily to be shown in schools like many of the Disney cartoons being made at this time so theatrical stardom at the time was not yet in the plans for Barks' famous creation. However, Barks, as well as Scrooge McDuck, were receiving more and more public attention.

In 1981, two limited-edition art books featuring Scrooge were published simultaneously: The Fine Art of Walt Disney's Donald Duck reproduced 122 Barks oil painting of the Disney ducks. Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times (Celestial Arts) collected 10 classic stories and printed the first new Scrooge adventure by Barks in 15 years, "Go Slowly, Sands of Time" (a text story with illustrations).

It wasn't until Dec. 16, 1983 that Scrooge popped up again on the silver screen. In Mickey's Christmas Carol, Scrooge finally got to play his namesake in the famous Dickens' story, with David Block as the supervising animator on Scrooge.

Mickey Mouse had his first theatrical starring experience in 20 years as Bob Cratchit, but was little more than a supporting player to Scrooge. The cartoon was based on a 1975 storyteller record album titled Dickens Christmas Carol With the Walt Disney Players co- produced by actor Alan Young who did the voice of Scrooge and repeated that role in the animated cartoon. Disney director Burny Mattinson discovered the album and pitched the idea to the Disney Studio to do it as a feaurette to Ron Miller who greenlit the production.

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 second-tier 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, written by Carl Barks, seemed like a natural inspiration for some action-packed stories.

"Barks was never really consulted," stated Tom Ruzicka, associate producer of Duck Tales, 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 Mgaon claimed that "With 'Duck Tales,' 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. 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, Will Ryan and others.

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 21st 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 Walt Disney World, where Mickey's Toontown Fair is located today, 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.

Of course, over the years, Scrooge has gone on to even greater success with new comic book stories, notably the ones produced by Don Rosa and William Van Horn building on the legacy of Carl Barks, and further animated appearances including Disney's House of Mouse series and rare merchandise including the special Scrooge pin produced exclusively for the finance department at Team Disney Florida.