A look at the only book and recording set headlined by the bovine enchantress – in which she is nonetheless a supporting player to Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.
WALT DISNEY’S STORY OF CLARABELLE COW
Applewood Publishing 978-1557093578 (CD and Book)
Released in 1996. From the Whitman “1066 Series” Book, Originally Published in 1938. Limited Edition of 2,500 Copies. Running Time: 28 minutes.=
Voices: April Winchell (Clarabelle Cow); Will Ryan (Horace Horsecollar); Russi Taylor (Clara Cluck); Tony Anselmo (Donald Duck); Wayne Allwine (Mickey Mouse).
The 1990’s were halcyon days for Disney media collectors. Compact discs were relatively new, so record companies were scrambling to fill the glistening discs with new and vintage material, almost as fast as listeners were snapping them up to see how crystal clear they sounded. Special bonus material was plentiful on the various home video playback systems. And books-a-plenty were adorning brick-and-mortar shops with reprints of almost unattainable classic Disney tomes, as well as handsome new editions with illustrations by outstanding artists of past and present.
Applewood was one of the licensees for such precious new books, and one of their most unique was a boxed set of six prized 1938 reprints known as Whitman’s “1066” series, which originally sold for 5 cents. Available in a cloth-covered slipcase, the books were packaged inside individual boxes containing one volume and one CD in a plain jewel case.
Walt Disney’s Story of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Dippy the Goof, Pluto the Pup and Clarabelle Cow were formatted much like Whitman Big Little Books, with text on one side of each spread and a captioned line drawing on the other. None of the books were originally written as complete narratives.
“Whitman just repurposed some Mickey Sunday strips–and Silly Symphony Sunday strips starring Donald–that featured Clarabelle in a rather incidental role,” author/animation historian David Gerstein told me. “In some of the illustrations, there are a few redrawn Clarabelle figures that were originally Horace Horsecollars.
“As per usual for the time period, the Mickey strip material throughout the ‘1066’ books was mostly drawn by Floyd Gottfredson, while Al Taliaferro drew the Silly Symphony offerings. In the Story of Clarabelle Cow, the narrative utilizes the Silly strips for May 9, 1937, March 14, 1937, and October 11, 1936, in that order, followed by the Mickey strip for February 21, 1937.”
The text is very episodic, which is not surprising since it is stitched together from unrelated comics. Clarabelle may be the “star” of the book, but she serves no other purpose than as a bridge between Donald and Mickey adventures. Clarabelle runs out of butter, leaving Donald to tangle with a parrot and make a mess. She returns to scold Donald, who goes to the park, where he tries to help a lady at the water fountain. The lady gets water in the face, she reciprocates, Donald tries to throw a rock at her but hits Clarabelle’s window.
Clarabelle scolds Donald but forgives him, giving him Horace’s hunting rifle to return. Donald goes hunting instead, but can’t bring himself to shoot a cute squirrel. He gets poked by the gun, stamps on it and brings it to Horace before returning to Clarabelle for cookies. Winter comes. Mickey is shoveling Clarabelle’s snow when he spots a pair of her skis and decides to try them. Chaos ensues. Mickey brings the broken skis back to Clarabelle, who tells him that they were supposed to be his Christmas present. The end. Fran Allison had more significant interaction with Kukla and Ollie on their TV show than Clarabelle does with Donald and Mickey in this book.
Despite the Story of Clarabelle Cow’s shortcomings, the “1066” books are, of course, still a wonderful artifact from the early days of the Walt Disney Studios. And the 1990’s audio recordings boast performances by Wayne Allwine, Russi Taylor, Tony Anselmo and April Winchell, all gloriously lengthy because of the abundance of text. Rarely do we have the privilege of hearing such a quantity of character dialogue on recordings. Will Ryan, as narrator Horace, is the voice “saddled” with the greatest amount of story material to be performed.
“All the recordings have the same opening and ending—an introduction by Horace and Clara Cluck,” David added. “It’s the only time, to my knowledge, that a recorded version of Clara was given a speaking voice rather than a series of clucks. The project also seems to have been created without the knowledge that Horace was still active as a comics character at the time, so the introduction and conclusion treat him almost as a retiree, reflecting nostalgically on his days with Mickey’s gang.”
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Walt Disney’s Story of Clarabelle Cow
Note that Horace, with fondness—and perhaps a touch of melancholy—actually mentions Walt as the person who told these stories to the gang in days gone by.