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Wednesdays with Wade: Donald Duck's Other Daddy (PART ONE)

Wednesdays with Wade: Donald Duck's Other Daddy (PART ONE)

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I was recently watching the Disney Treasures DVD: "The Chronological Donald Duck" and once again I marvelled at Jack Hannah's handling of the the character. In the old days, fans used to confuse Jack with William Hanna of Hanna-Barbera fame and Jack always laughed when someone complimented him on his creation of Yogi Bear or Scooby-Doo.

Jack Hannah was never interested in self-promotion. As a result, his numerous achievements as an animator, storyman, director and teacher went largely unrecognized by the general public who, whether they realized it or not, had been touched by his craftsmanship. When he died in June 1994, only his peers and a handful of animation historians seemed aware of his passing.

Hannah was labeled by his friend and biographer, Disney historian Jim Korkis, as "Donald Duck's Other Daddy". While Hannah did not create the character of Donald Duck, he worked first as animator on the early Donald Duck cartoons, then as a storyman on some of Donald's most memorable adventures in the 1940s and eventually as a director on the Donald Duck cartoons that received Academy Award nominations. In addition, he directed many of the early Disneyland television shows featuring the quarrelsome quacker teamed up with a live-action Walt Disney, and along with Carl Barks, Hannah was responsible for the first novel-length Donald Duck comic book story, "Pirate's Gold". Certainly, Hannah touched almost every area of Donald's life and influenced his popularity.

John Frederick (Jack) Hannah was born in Nogales, Arizona on January 5, 1913. After high school, he moved to Los Angeles to take an art course at the Art Guild Academy in 1931. His first art related jobs were designing movie posters for Foster and Kleiser as well as for Hollywood Theaters.

"I started out as a poster designer in the middle of the Depression and then I just grabbed any job that came along," recalled Hannah, "I was trying to get work in the commercial art field when I went into this one art agency with my portfolio. The guy reviewing my work suggested I apply to Disney Studios because they were looking for young fellows with some talent. I told him that I was a commercial artist and not a cartoonist. I went out to the Hyperion Studio anyway with my portfolio and a little fear in my heart. After about a week, I was called by Ben Sharpsteen, who at that time was in charge of reviewing new talent and he asked me to come in for a two week tryout. The two weeks ended up as thirty years of work at Disney."

Hannah joined the studio in 1933 as an inbetweener.

"When I started the going rate was sixteen dollars a week but Walt had an incentive plan. You were under contract but about quarterly you'd get a two dollar raise. So if you really applied yourself you could move up to a first assistant like I did. I eventually got to assist such outstanding animators as Norm Ferguson, *** Huemer, Les Clark and *** Lundy. The first scenes I animated were in 'Shanghaied' (1934) where Mickey duels with Pete using a swordfish. In 'The Band Concert' (12935) I animated that bit where during the storm, the benches run away. I did a lot of clean up on the dwarfs in 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs'(1937) or Bill Tytla and in 'The Old Mill' (1937), I animated the sequence where a series of bats woke up, yawned and flew out. My first official credit as a full animator was on 'Mickey's Circus' (1936). Within three years, I had become an animator even though I knew that I was never going to be a top one. I consider my work during this period as 'in the middle'. I didn't knock them dead with my animation but they always seemed pleased with my work. I then got assigned to Jack King, whose unit was doing a new series of cartoons starring Donald Duck."

However with the success of "Snow White", the Disney Studio decided to do some reorganizing. Some of the solid but unexciting animators would be moved aside and replaced with new talent that was being recruited by the studio for future features. Hannah feared he would lose his job but fortunately, he had been making extra money at the studio by submitting gags for various cartoons. Disney would pay up to five dollars for a gag used in a cartoon and Hannah was submitting gag ideas for quite some time.

Harry Reeves, then the head of the story department, suggested he become a storyman. Hannah made the transition and after a short period where he missed the animating part he became excited over the possibilities of doing stories. At first, he rotated around two or three different story crews. When the Studio moved to Burbank, he was teamed with Carl Barks and the two men became the exclusive story team for Jack King and his Donald Duck cartoons. The team of Barks and Hannah were responsible for many memorable Donald Duck cartoons including 'The Autograph Hound' (1939, 'Donald's Vacation' (1940), 'Truant Officer Donald' (1941 nominated for an Academy Award), 'Donald Gets Drafted' (1942) and 'The Plastics Inventor' (1944).

"Carl and I got along fine even though he was older and maybe was more grown up than I. When we weren't working on a story, I'd spend my time down in the new commissary having a Coke and checking out the cute little waitresses. Carl was a real workhorse. He'd still be back at his desk working away. He was always a bit of a loner, but not in an unfriendly way. I learned a lot from him. He was more than just a 'gag' type of storyman. He seemed more interested in the overall theme of the story and making sure the gags helped develop the story and weren't just thrown in for an easy laugh. Carl and I were a story team for awhile so Walt must have thought we were okay. The rule of thumb around the studio was that if you didn't hear from Walt you were doing fine. I got along well with Walt until I got into directing."

Yet Hannah and Barks had one grievance with the studio.

"As much as I liked Jack King, he really couldn't direct personality sequences. This was very irritating to both Carl and me. We saw a lot of potential in the basic ideas we came up with but when they were animated they just fell short because King never fully explored the possibilities.
It was this frustration that made me want to become a director myself," said Hannah.

Hannah and Barks were approached to illustrate the first all new sixty-four page Donald duck comic book story, entitled "Pirate's Gold" for Western Publishing. They divided the script, and working nights and weekends, produced a comic book that is now considered one of the most valuable Disney comic books. Barks enjoyed the freedom of working on the comic book more than the teamwork atmosphere of the studio where he would have to submit his work for approval and tinkering by others. When Barks left to do freelance comic book work, Hannah found a new creative outlet for himself.

"The studio was doing a lot of training films. There was a picture that they gave to Jack King about a housewife saving fat for the war effort. I don't know why they were supposed to save this grease. Maybe it was to make the enemy slip on it? Somebody told me it helped in the making of explosives. King wasn't interested in the mechanical part of this picture, you know, showing all this stuff going down a funnel. So he gave me a little piece to direct and I just loved it. That was my first little piece of direction and I started to direct more and more. I remember doing most of these films for the Navy like one on the exploder mechanism of the torpedo. This work was very exacting and I had to make several trips to North Island in San Diego and work with the torpedo planes, "said Hannah.

When the war ended, he returned to the story department but now, more than ever, he wanted to direct.

"After the war, I went back to being a storyman but without Carl, I just felt lost. I was told that a young storyman named Bill Berg who later developed into a very good storyman was struggling with a story. Hal Adlequist who was head of the story department asked me to help him out. I filled it with a lot personality bits which I always believed were more important in a story than just gags. I went to Hal and said, 'I'd just love to direct this. As much as I like Jack King, I can't see him directing these personality sequences'. I knew I could really do something with this cartoon. Finally after asking repeatedly, the word that came back from Walt implied, 'Go ahead; let him hang himself.' I met Walt in the hall one day and he asked how it was going. I replied, 'Fine, but if I don't get started on another cartoon I'll have to put all my costs into this picture and it's going to run over budget. I need another short to start on while this one is in production.' I'm certain that Walt looked at that short either at home or in a projection room because he wouldn't just take my word for it. The next thing I knew, Adlequist told me Walt said it was okay to pick up another one and I ended up directing Disney short cartoons for the next seventeen years!"

TOMORROW: Wade covers Hannah's impact on Donald Duck, the Disney short he was proudest of directing and his career outside the Disney Studio.

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