ANIMATION SPIN
June 9, 2015 posted by

Paul Frees and “Ludwig Von Drake” on the Record

Paul Frees’ birthday is June 22, but any day is right for celebrating his vocal talents, including those presented in today’s featured record albums.

Von-Drake600

Walt Disney Presents
PROFESSOR LUDWIG VON DRAKE

Featured in Wonderful World of Color on NBC-TV
Disneyland Records DQ-1222 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Mono)
Available on iTunes [https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/professor-ludwig-von-drake/id203144219]

Released July 24, 1961. Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Production Supervision: Camarata. Running Time: 30 minutes.

Songs: “I’m Ludwig Von Drake”, “Spectrum Song”, “Green with Envy Blues”, “It Gets You” by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman; “Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II; “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo (The Magic Song)” by Al Hoffmann, Mack David, Jerry Livingston.
Spoken Segments: “Von Drake Variations on The Blue Danube”, “Professor Von Drake Discourses on Sound Recording and Takes You on an Adventure Into the Echo Chamber”, “Professor Von Drake Takes You Behind the Scenes at an Actual Recording Session”.

Von Drake 45 labelComedy albums were all the rage in the early 1960’s. Professor Ludwig Von Drake’s 1961 debut on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was good timing for this comic gem of an album—perhaps the funniest in the Disneyland Records catalog (Sterling Holloway’s The Absent-Minded Professor and Peter Ustinov’s Blackbeard’s Ghost are runners-up).

Walt Disney left the ABC network at that time due to legal issues as well as the fact that the network was not going to embrace color TV. Moving to NBC allowed for the cross promotion of RCA televisions as well as a greater way to showcase the Technicolor images of Disney animation and live action. (I’ve always wondered whether calling the show the “Wonderful World of Color”, with its “Color! Color! Color!” theme song by the Sherman Brothers, were little digs at Walt’s former network besides being selling points of the show).

Ludwig Von Drake was an inspired creation to kick off the ‘60s, with a slight edge and contemporary irreverence. Like his nephew Donald Duck, Von Drake is a bit of a hot mess. He has issues. But unlike Donald, he had Paul Frees’ speaking voice to give him a greater opportunity for the verbal comedy ideal for television—and records.

LudwigandRecord-250Side One of the album is themed literally to the “Wonderful World of Color”. When referring to the TV show, Von Drake—in his Clyde Crashcup-like way of stealing credit—says that he produced, starred and directed (“There’s a character in there named ‘Walt Frisbee’, or something like that, that I draw…some kind of a duck or something, I don’t know what it is,” he explains.) The album takes its cue from his first entry on the TV series, “An Adventure in Color”, complete with the Sherman Brothers’ “Spectrum Song”. The songs are framed with comedy continuity before and/or after the song. Side One is a showcase for Frees’ astonishing versatility as a singer and actor, as he layers a pop singing style on top of his Von Drake characterization.

Side Two is about music and recording, with an emphasis on dialogue. It is on this side that Frees cuts loose verbally, bringing to the fore Von Drake’s frailties: ego, temper, pomposity, snobbery, credit-grabbing and lame attempts to mask confusion and ignorance with off-the-cuff explanations. Surely many of the funny lines were improvised. Like Jack Mercer as Popeye, Frees often slips gags into Von Drake’s mutterings. There are no writing credits on the album, making one wonder if Frees himself wrote it, perhaps with an associate from…hmm… Jay Ward’s studio? Frees was working with so many talented people in both animation and live action; it’s a ponderable possibility.

Carnival-TimeVon Drake’s lessons in music and recording include the Prof leading the very small band as if it was a full orchestra in “The Blue Danube”, played as a waltz, a cha-cha and as rock-and-roll. At one point, he identifies a musician as “Herman”. Though he does not describe Herman, Ludwig did have a beetle sidekick on a few TV shows with that name. He then tours the recording studio and the echo chamber (in a segment that was repurposed on the Disneyland LP, The Mouse Factory Presents Mickey and His Friends).

By the time the album nears its end, Von Drake tells those still listening to this “licorice pizza” that, if they’re wondering why the record was made, “Forget it. It’s here, you bought it, forget it.” He then conducts a session to showcase classic lyrics, which turn out to be those of “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Cinderella. Making gentle fun of something like a Disney song is one of the things that Von Drake was able to get away with. During the session, he is alternately frustrated and flummoxed by the studio experience, building to a fitting finale of frenzy.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“It Gets You”
When Von Drake mentions traveling the world in association with The Wonderful World of Color, he’s also talking about one of the aspects of the TV series. To celebrate the Carnival in South America and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, he sings a delightful Sherman song that recalls the exuberance of Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.


PosterPeople-600

PAUL FREES AND THE POSTER PEOPLE
MGM Records SE-4735 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo)

Released in 1970. Producers: Artie Butler, Charles Stern. Arranger: Artie Butler. Music Engineer: Ami Hadani. Vocals Engineer: John Horton. Recorded at TTG Recording Studios and Alex Hassilev Studios, Hollywood. Album Design and Illustration: Bonnie Brown. Photographer: George Meinzinger. Running Time: 31 minutes.

Songs and Impressions:
“Mama Told Me Not to Come” – W. C. Fields
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” – Humphrey Bogart
“Let It Be” – Warner Oland (as Charlie Chan)
“The Look of Love” – Boris Karloff
“Sugar, Sugar” – Sidney Greenstreet
“Hey Jude” – Peter Lorre
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” – Clark Gable
“Games People Play” – Bela Lugosi
“Up, Up and Away” – Ed Wynn
“Everything is Beautiful” – W.C. Fields, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Clark Gable, Bela Lugosi, Ed Wynn

To Paul Frees fans like us, this is pure ear candy. On the one hand, he’s performing groovy pop ditties (mostly in the Rex Harrison/David Tomlinson “talk-sing” style) as towering icons of the movies. But on the other, he’s also voicing W.C. Fritos, So-Hi, Morocco Mole and Captain Peter Peachfuzz.

The comic hook of the album is the incongruity between the singers and the songs. My copy is a DJ edition. Back in the day, these cuts would be just the thing for disc jockeys to lighten the mood, play before the news or engage call-ins. A similar concept arrived over a decade later when Rhino released Rerun Rock, a collection of TV show themes sung by impressionists (e.g. The Addams Family sung by Frank Sinatra).

Charles Stern, who represented Paul Frees at the time, is listed as one of the album’s producers. The other producer and arranger is Artie Butler, who did the musical score for Disney’s The Rescuers in 1977 (a background score somewhat unusual for a Disney feature at the time). Butler credits are numerous and legendary, including “What a Wonderful World” for Louis Armstrong.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Everything is Beautiful”
Frees offers up a handful of his impressions, one after another, in this Ray Stevens hit of the “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” variety. W.C. Fields handles the chorus, with verses interpreted by Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Clark Gable, Bela Lugosi and Ed Wynn.

11 Comments

  • The Ludwig Von Drake album is certainly a tour de force for Paul Frees. From the opening song “Hooray for Professor Ludwig Von Drake” a wild and wacky tone is set. It’s delightful to hear so many songs from the Professor’s first season as host for the Disney TV show. “Carnival Time” is not only a great song, but it’s a nice souvenir of one of the best early episodes featuring Von Drake. Unlike many of the other spoken word albums produced by Disneyland Records, this one is definitely skewed toward adults–while there is nothing objectionable for children on the album, much of the humor would go right over their heads.

    Not only did Frees do memorable voice work for Jay Ward, Hanna-Barbera, UPA, and others–he also was extensively employed by Disney as this album demonstrates. Besides the voice of Ludwig Von Drake, he did the narration and several incidental voices for “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”, provided some key vocal tracks for “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and was the “Ghost Host” for the Haunted Mansion.

    His Ludwig Von Drake character was one of his richest vocalizations for Disney. He mined a great deal of comedy out of the professor–and despite the accent he was still much more understandable than his nephew Donald Duck. The story is that Walt Disney was desirous of a break from the weekly task of hosting his TV show, so an animated host was created to take his place in selected shows. The character was cross-promoted in several venues at the time of his debut–he was featured in comic books, coloring books, records, children’s story books–and at my home we even had a Ludwig Von Drake place mat! It would be nice to see some of the Von Drake hours made available on home video–preserving the great vocal talents of Paul Frees.

    • He even did some for Warner Brothers–“The Incredible Mr.Limpet” as the cantkaneorus Southern Fried crab who’d always called Don Knotts as Limpet “Four Eyed Flatbush” (because, you see, 🙂 he woreglasses and came from Brooklyn, those he was thew same Don Knotts as always). That was the voice (a personal favorite) you would have heard him do in Rankin/bass’s original 1969 “Frosty the Snowman” as the peeved off, quite irritable ticket cleark, King Features/Paramount-Famous’s “Snuffy Smith’ as the title character and Larry Harmon’s “Bozo the Clown” as “Boss”, the Ringmaster..

  • Frees also did the villain in “Gay Puree”, using something like his “Ghost Host” voice and performing two songs.

    The most intriguing Von Drake merchandise was a doll with a speaker in it. You plugged him into a tape recorder or record player and played Von Drake telling fairy tales. Were there special recordings for this?

    • Those must have been specially recorded. I am not aware of the stories appearing on any other release.

    • Paul Frees did the voice of Meowrice the evil rich Parisan cat in Gay Purr-ee who preformed the song”The Money Cat Can” with The Mellowmen. Also Paul Frees also did voice work on two adaptations of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” one was a Christmas special Mr Magoo ‘a Christmas Carol as Old Joe the rag and bone shop owner and as the undertaker and in the animated version of a little known 1950’s musical “The Stingiest Man in Town”. He also used his “Ghost Host” voice in a Donald Duck cartoon (I should also mention that today’s is Donald Duck’s Birthday) as the voice of the Spirit of the Mummy in a haunted house like attraction at a carnival..

  • You can even hear Frees’ Von Drake voice coming out of a Jim Tyer-animated professor in the KFS Snuffy Smith cartoon “The Work Pill”. Even in the tightly limited animation format, the looseness of Frees’ style with the voice, to the point of seeming to ad lib dialogue, combined with Tyer’s stretching of the limited animation budget makes the character stand out within the overall bland series.

  • Paul Frees had been doing impressions of celebs back in the 1940’s. He shows up on two Spike Jones recordings of 1947 vintage. On “My Old Flame”, he does a definitive Peter Lorre. And on “Pop-Corn Sack”, he does Edward G. Robinson, Al Jolson–and Katherine Hepburn!

    He did a lot of radio (“Suspense”, “Escape”),, and his voice was used for John Beresford Tipton, the eccentric moneybags who handed those million-simoleon cashier’s checks to Michael Anthony (Marvin Miller) to hand out on “The Millionaire”. (We never saw JBT’s face–maybe a hand now and then–but the voice was that of Paul Frees.)

  • I always noticed that any production.that has Paul Frees performing that I could understand every word that was said. He had excellent pronunciation no matter what voice he was doing. And during his heyday it seems he was working for almost everybody giving the same excellent performances every time. Imagine a Mt Rushmore for voice talents…Paul Frees, June Foray, Mel Blanc and Daws Butler.
    Oh..which reminds me… back in the 1960’s I wondered why the voice of John Lennon in the Beatles TV cartoons at times sounded like Dudley DoRight’s Inspector Fenwick. Didn’t matter…it was all good!!

  • My favorite Von Drake story is that the character is somewhat taboo in the european DISNEY Ducks Comics where these comics are HUGE! Years ago when I was touring comic cons with my own book I met Don Ros, Carl Barks’ successor, a few times. Once he told me that he was banned from including Von Drake from the official Duck Family Tree because some European countries feel that Von Drake is a former Nazi scientist that fled to America under PROJECT PAPERCLIP ala Werner Von Braun (which some speculate was the inspiration for his name and he’d been friends with some of Von Drake’s co-creators…) To accommodate this, Rosa placed Scrooge’s sister near the edge of the page so Von Drake would simply be cut off. (The only way it would have worked for Von Drake to be Donald’s uncle is if he’s married to Scrooge’s sister Matilda McDuck…) While Rosa used both of Scrooge’s sisters in flashback stories he had intended to only use Donald’s mother, Hortense, as an adult in a story about where she’s been all of these years. The publisher wouldn’t allow Rosa to use Hortense so Matilda was substituted. (Donald’s sister and unknown brother in law are the other DISNEY ducks it’s forbidden to use in stories since there’s no easy way to explain why their triplets are being raised by Donald….) I don’t think Rosa ever used von Drake in a story himself other than a cameo and Barks only ever used him once. When Uncle Scrooge was animated in the short SCROOGE McDUCK & MONEY the character looks much more like an adapted version of von Drake than the comic book character Barks created.

  • I had the Ludwig Von Drake album as a young child (! turned 6 in 1961) and played it to death! He was a favorite character of mine (sounding so much like my European immigrant relatives) and so funny — and yes, there is a lightness and irreverence to this album that is very un-Disney and very much more like Jay Ward & Co.

    Even the cover was a delight, with those bright dribs & drabs of color.

    Ah, good times, good times.

  • The Poster People LP probably would have never made a dent in sales,but it had the added misfortune of being on MGM as the company was going down the tubes,taking the music section along with it. Previously, the label overpressed tons of product,including Laura Nyro’s overproduced first album which contained tons of songs that would be hits of others. They flooded the cutout bins of Woolworth’s and others. Along comes Mike Curb,who dropped many acts that did not fit in his goody-two-shoes view of the world just as the Doors.Led Zepplin,Hendrix & Joplin were taking over album sales now that the Beatles were dissolved. The bleeding continued,outside of the Osmonds,till the label was absorbed into Polygram in 1972.

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