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The Story Behind "Der Fuehrer's Face"

The Story Behind "Der Fuehrer's Face"

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The upcoming "Disney Treasures" DVD of World War II cartoons ("On the Front Lines" which is currently available at a nice pre-order discount over at Amazon.com) will feature the only animated cartoon for which Donald Duck won an Academy Award, "Der Fuehrer's Face."

Written by Joe Grant and *** Huemer (the writing team responsible for "Dumbo" among other classics), it was originally to be entitled "Donald Duck in Nutziland" (Nutsy Land/Nazi Land, get it?) and was going to be used to encourage audiences to pay their taxes promptly to support the war effort.

Grant and Huemer wrote that "...we feel that a public character such as Donald Duck, writhing rebelliously in the clutches of the ***, will bring the situation home to every man, woman and child in this country...for Donald belongs to them like a member of their own family. They will end up hating Hitler twenty times more than if they had gone through the same ordeal with some curly haired hero who is, after all, merely another movie actor."

The cartoon is a clever nightmare of Donald working in a munitions plant in Nazi Germany. The film ends with a famous image of Hitler's face being hit by an over ripe tomato. (On the sheet music, Donald Duck tosses the tomato.)

The cartoon features a memorable song written by Oliver Wallace who began his career at the Disney Studio in 1936. Like Carl Stalling, Wallace had been a theater pianist and organist (who had also written motion picture scores at Columbia and Universal Studios before joining Disney). Wallace scored for 147 shorts between 1937 and 1956 (including most of the Donald Duck shorts including creating Donald's theme song) as well as contributing to "Dumbo," Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan."

According to Disney Studio records, the song was published before the film was released and Spike Jones, a trombonist in the John Scott Trotter band who had started his own jazz group, The City Slickers, thought the novelty tune might make a good "B" side to the main song on the record, "I Wanna Go Back to West Virginia".

However, when the record was released, it was "Der Fuehrer's Face" that drove the sales of the record to over a million and a half copies and helped establish Spike Jones and his City Slickers as a bonafide entertainment phenomenon. A New York radio personality played the song on his show and got so many requests that he offered a free copy of the song to anyone who pledged a fifty dollar war bond. That promotion was so successful that in just two days, the song had earned sixty thousand dollars for Uncle Sam. There even had to be restraints put on the performance of the song to allow RCA's Bluebird label (who released the record) and Southern Music (who released the sheet music) to catch up with the avalanche of orders.

Oscar Hammerstein II called the song "the great psychological song of the war." (It even pops up in Bruce Willis' recent WWII film, "Hart's War.") Before the cartoon was released in 1943, the title was changed to the title of the popular song.

Originally released January 1, 1943, the cartoon was directed by Jack Kinney and had animation by Bob Carlson, Les Clark, Don DaGradi, Bill Justice, Milt Neil, Charles Nicholas, and John Sibley.

While there was a campaign manual published (suggesting such things as hanging an effigy of Hitler in the theater lobby so audiences could give the bronx cheer raspberry sound to the dummy), like most of Disney war work, it is difficult to find documentation. Fortunately, there is "Dispatch from Disney."

"Dispatch from Disney" is an extremely rare booklet that was done by the Disney Studio for employees that were serving in the Armed Forces during World War II. It was intended to be a regularly published booklet that would keep Disney servicemen up to date on the happenings at the Studio. Unfortunately, only one issue was done: Volume One Number One!

"Dispatch from Disney" featured wonderful Disney wartime artwork and numerous articles including the following: Introduction by Walt Disney; Private Joe Disney (letter from Mickey Mouse); Victory Through Air Power by Alexander P. de Seversky; A Day With Walt ( humorous series of 12 drawings which is a two-page fold out, featuring Roy "The Big Mooseketeer"Williams art about a Day With Walt!); Films Unite With Textbooks; Education For Death; Laughter Knows How To Fight (by *** Huemer and Joe Grant); Training Fighter Pilots With Film; Entertainment Values in Educational Films; Roll Call (Disney artists such as Herb Ryman, Hank Porter, Hal Adelquist); How I Wrote der Fuehrer's Face by Oliver Wallace; Keeping Fit; Gremlins (a piece on the then in development Disney feature based on Roald Dahl's first book); Saludos Amigos; Disney and the Aircraft Industry; and more. Printed on very high-quality linen paper it measures 5.5" x 8", 36 pages and it came with a loose page of nude pretty girl pin-ups done by Fred Moore, Bill Justice and Milt Neil.

From that very rare edition (that has sold for upwards of $800-$900), here is Oliver Wallace's memory of writing that very famous World War II song:

How I Wrote "Der Fuerher's Face"
By Oliver Wallace as told to Ralph Parker

The time was 3:00 P.M., and I was feeling low. I had been a naughty boy the night before.

That had to be the moment when Walt encountered me in the hall and gave me a rush order: "Ollie, I want a serious song, but it's got to be funny."

The further information that it was to be for a picture telling Donald Duck's adventures in Nazi land didn't help very much.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Suppose the Germans are singing it," Walt offered. "To them, it's serious. To us, it's funny."

Walt walked away. I stood in the hall. I continued to stand in the hall.
Once more I was on the spot.

Arriving home disgruntled, I encountered no idea while eating dinner.
Then I laid down for a rest. "To hell with it," I told myself.

The wee small voice told me what it thought of me. It was a familiar routine.
"Get off your back and get on your bike," said my wife. "You're going to the store with me."

The fresh air brought out the nobility in me. I turned receptive and laid myself wide open to any idea.

There ought to be a German band.

The music came to me in one flash. It nearly knocked me off the bicycle. My mouth opened in surprise. There followed a second surprise. Words came out of that mouth. I heard myself singing with the loudness which distinguishes my voice: "Ven Der Fuehrer says, 'Ve iss der Master Race,' Ve Heil! Heil! Right in Der Fuehrer's Face."

My wife laughed. "Who wrote that?"

"I'm writing it!" I yelled--and almost ran into a truck.

Half an hour later, it was finished. I sang it to my two daughters (separately) --and when each said she liked it, I thought I had something.

But would Walt like it?

Arriving at the studio next day, I sang it all over the place.

The sound brought Walt out into the hall (where he does most of his business).

"Let's hear it," he said.

I stalled. "Orchestration . . . there's a funny sound in it . . . can't be made without an instrument . . . has to be practiced . . ." The truth is, I didn't know what Walt would think of the highly robust Bronx cheer. Could such a sound be used in a Disney picture?

"Let's hear it," said Walt.

I let loose.

Walt laughed.

The rest is history.

And for those who want to sing along with the newest "Disney Treasures" DVD, here are the lyrics (although it is difficult to indicate the "raspberry" sound in simple type):

When der Fuehrer says, "We ist der master race"
We HEIL! (phhht!) HEIL! (phhht!) Right in der Fuehrer's face
Not to love Der Fuehrer is a great disgrace
So we HEIL! (phhht!) HEIL! (phhht!) Right in der Fuehrer's face
When Herr Göbbels says, "We own der world und space"
We HEIL! (phhht!) HEIL! (phhht!) Right in Herr Göring's face
When Herr Göring says they'll never bomb this place
We HEIL! (phhht!) HEIL! (phhht!) Right in Herr Göring's face

Are we not the supermen
Aryan pure supermen
Ja, we ist der supermen
Super-duper supermen.

Ist this Nutzi land not good?
Would you leave it if you could?
Ja, this Nutzi land is good!
Vee would leave it if we could

We bring the world to order
Heil Hitler's new world order
Everyone of foreign race will love der Fuehrer's face
When we bring to der world disorder

When der Fuehrer says, "We ist der master race"
We HEIL! (phhht!) HEIL! (phhht!) Right in der Fuehrer's face
When Der Fuehrer says, "We ist der master race"

We HEIL! (phhht!) HEIL! (phhht!) Right in der Fuhrer's face !

(And don't forget to throw that tomato at Hitler's face...or maybe you shouldn't do that to your expensive home entertainment center.....)



If you would like to check out "Der Fuehrer's Face," then preorder your copy of the "Walt Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines" DVD from Amazon.com by clicking on the link to the right.

Your cost will (unfortunately) remain the same (though Amazon is currently offering this sure-to-be collector's item for 30% off!) But -- if you go there through us -- we get a tiny cut of what you spend. So help keep Jim Hill behind the computer where he belongs and pick up your copy of "Walt Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines" through the link to the right.

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