John Frederick (Jack) Hannah was born in Nogales, Arizona on January 5, 1913. He passed away on June 11, 1994 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, California. He was honored as a Disney Legend in 1992.
He joined the Disney Studios in 1933 and spent five years as an animator, another five years in the story department where he was teamed with Carl Barks as a story team, and then close to twenty years as a director of animated shorts. He worked on well over a hundred cartoons with Donald Duck.
More importantly, Jack was the very first animator I ever interviewed. I interviewed him several times beginning in the late 1970s. I liked him very much and he had some great stories. Here is an excerpt where he talks about some of the supporting characters he developed for Donald Duck.
JIM: What were some of the changes in the Donald Duck shorts that occurred when you became a director?
JACK: We began looking for foils for the Duck. Naturally his three nephews were always available. You’ve got to give a storyman an outlet for a new line of gags. It was natural that the Duck would have a girlfriend so Daisy came along. Anything to open up story possibilities. That’s why the nephews were there. For a while there, somebody came up with the idea that it would be clever to have the three nephews say one line of dialog with all three of them sharing in the sentence. One nephew would say the first two words, the next would say the middle of the sentence and the third would finish it up. I put a stop to this because it ruined all sense of timing and you couldn’t go on and carry through a gag. You’d have to stop and wait for each nephew to say his lines and you couldn’t incorporate the dialog in the action as well that way. We got each nephew saying an individual line all by himself.
Jack King (who had been directing the Duck shorts) was never noted for his timing so I guess it didn’t bother him but I got rid of it. A lot of directors gave the animators more say in timing. I never did that. I timed every foot I directed. I don’t care how good the animator was. To me, it was the most important part of the directing…the timing, the pacing, the pauses.
While Donald and his nephews worked well together, we needed variety in our material so we tried a variety of characters. The Aracun bird who was introduced earlier in SALUDOS AMIGOS was one of our first attempts. There was a series with a beetle named Bootle Beetle. My wife knew a race horse in Pomona named Beetle Bootle and I just switched it around. Working with these types of characters led up to Chip’n’Dale.
JIM: How were the chipmunks developed?
JACK: I believe Gerry Geronimi did a picture with two impish little chipmunks that just squeaked and chattered with a speeded up soundtrack but no words. He used them with Pluto. They were the forerunners of Chip’n’Dale. I wanted to use them with the Duck but with a little more personality put into them. So we decided to put words in their mouths but speed them up so you could just barely understand them. Sometimes you didn’t understand them but at least you got the general idea. Sometimes we would have to slow the track down if we felt it necessary to understand a particular word or sentence. We gave them both the same personality but something was missing.
Bill Peet came up with the suggestion of making one of them a little goofball to give them two different personalities. Immediately, I saw the advantage of that and took the suggestion. We were trying to name them and we all sat around with blank stares on our faces and suddenly, Bea Selke, my assistant director at the time, mentioned chipendale because she was looking for a gift for an upcoming wedding. Immediately, the name clicked with me as a take off on the furniture called chipendale and on the word “chip” from chipmunks. I said, “That’s it!” It was just a perfect name for the two of them.
They went on to become famous not only as foils for the Duck but as strong personalities who were able to work alone. They counteracted the Duck’s personality. They were industrious little guys and they’d be storing nuts for the winter or something and the Duck would come across the situation and see a chance to have a little fun. Naturally, it always backfired on him and then his ill temper would come along and gave us a natural story point.
JIM: Who did the voices for Chip’n’Dale?
JACK: A secretary in one of the business offices, Dessie Flynn, who is now Dessie Flynn Miller and a girl from ink and paint were the original ones. She had quite a giggle. I’d act like a monkey and she’d giggle like crazy. We stuck with those two ladies for most of the time. Although we would occasionally use other female voices for the character.
JIM: You also developed Humphrey the Bear as another foil, right?
JACK: For the sake of something new, we tried the Duck with a bear in RUGGED BEAR and it seemed like an immediate success for them to play against each other. At the time we had not named the bear.
Later, when we started thinking of another picture for the bear, it seemed natural to be in a National Forest and that’s how the Little Ranger came into being. We again used the bear and now he got the name Humphrey. The Little Ranger’s voice was done by Bill Thompson who did several voices in the different shorts as well as doing the voice for the White Rabbit in ALICE.
One of the sequences I remember having a lot of fun with was when the Duck had a honey farm next to the Ranger’s station. The Duck complained that the bears were stealing the honey so the Little Ranger had them stand up in a police line-up fashion. The Little Ranger always treated his bears like his own pets. Sometimes I would fill in and do some of Humphrey’s grunts.
JIM: You also had Donald battling a lot of bees in your pictures.
JACK: I don’t recall any real reason for that. Probably the idea was that the bee is a menace with that stinger as a weapon and is much smaller than the Duck so it would be funny having the little guy battling a big bully. You can get a funny sound effect out of a bee. They can cuss you out with that little bee noise.
I know we did go to smaller characters with the Duck because it would make it funnier when the situation backfired on him. Just having Donald and his nephews made it difficult to come up with story ideas after awhile.
We considered the nephews just the same character. We never really considered them individuals. They each acted the same; as far as we were concerned, they were interchangeable. You couldn’t use much dialogue with them and the Duck because you wouldn’t be able to understand it.