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Wayne Allwine, the man behind the mouse, is gone. This sweet 62-year-old passed away on Monday due to complications from diabetes.
Now some folks will tell you that Wayne was one of only three men to voice Mickey Mouse (with the other two being Walt himself and veteran Disney Studios sound man Jimmy MacDonald). Which isn't entirely true. At the time that Allwine initially began recording for the Mouse, there were actually a number of folks within Walt Disney Productions who did Mickey's voice. MacDonald provided Mickey's vocals for the studio & television side of things, Jack Wagner (i.e. the official voice of Disneyland) spoke for the Mouse in the theme parks and arena shows, while Hal Smith did Mickey's voice for Disney Consumer Products.
But where Wayne lucked out was ... Well, just as he began speaking for Mickey, The Walt Disney Company (Thanks -- in large part -- to Les Perkins' efforts in establishing the Character Voice Department) decided that it was time that it selected one performer to be the official voice of each character. That way, the Goofy that appears in parades for the Parks would sound exactly the same as the Goofy that you'd see in Jello commercials on TV. That there'd then be a uniformity in performance style & sound.
And though a number of folks did audition to be Mickey's official voice, it was Allwine who eventually landed the gig. Not so much because he'd actually been mentored by MacDonald (these two worked together for years in Disney's sound department). But -- rather -- because Wayne took the job seriously. He understood what he'd been entrusted with with Mickey Mouse and always did what he could to protect this character.
(L to R) Russi Taylor, Cindy Russell and Wayne Allwine. Photo by Roger Colton
"What do you mean by 'protect the character?'," you ask. Well, as the official voice of Mickey Mouse, Allwine spent over 30 years in recording sessions. Where he'd invariably be handed copy that had been prepared by some Marketing executive who had no idea how Mickey actually sounded. Which is why -- in an effort to make this 70-year-old Mouse sound hip, happening & now -- they'd have written dialogue that had Mickey using trendy slang or making off-color jokes.
And as he was rehearsing this material, Wayne would quickly identify the problem areas. And then -- as politely as possible -- he'd work with the director & sound engineer at that session to rectify these problems. Make sure that what was being recorded actually sounded like something that this timeless character might say.
Mind you, this isn't to say that Wayne wasn't up to a challenge. I remember talking with him once about his work in "The Prince and the Pauper." When I told Wayne how much I enjoyed his performance as the Prince in that featurette, how he had crafted a distinctly different character that still sounded like Mickey, the man lit up like a Christmas tree. "I'm so glad you noticed that," he said."I really tried to make Mickey and the Prince sound like two different characters."
(L to R) 2008 Disney Legend honorees Bob Booth, Walt Peregoy, Burny Mattinson,Frank Gifford, Barbra Walters, Wayne Allwine, Russi Taylor and Toshio Kagami
Of course, when you talk about Wayne, you have to bring up Russi Taylor, the talented voice actress who played Minnie to Allwine's Mickey. Those two literally met in a recording booth and quickly became a couple in real life.
Now what was kind of funny about that is -- for the first couple of years after Wayne & Russi were wed -- The Walt Disney Company expressly forbid these two from mentioning to the press that they were a married couple. Reportedly out of fear over what might happen if Allwine & Taylor's marriage didn't last. Studio execs supposedly dreaded the headline: "Mickey & Minnie split up." (Which -- given this bizarre corporate edict -- led to the in-house joke that " ... theirs was a love that dare not squeak its name.")
Anyway ... Anyone who ever saw Wayne & Russi together knew that these two were never going to split up. They were so sweet, so into one another, this couple seemed to be joined at the hip. Allwine & Taylor would do radio interviews together, promotional appearances together. They were inseparable.
Which is why -- as other people talk about how sad it is that we've lost Wayne -- to be honest, my heart really goes out to Russi at this moment. I mean, this woman's career and personal life were all tied up in one incredibly sweet guy. I can't imagine what she's going through right now.
In closing ... I know that it might sound somewhat sacrilegious to say this, especially to Disneyana fans. But whenever I watch Mickey Mouse shorts from the 1930s now, I find myself thinking that Mickey doesn't sound quite right. That -- as Walt Disney performed this character back in the day -- his Mouse isn't warm enough. That Walt's performance as Mickey is a bit too one note.
That -- in the end -- may be the greatest compliment that one can pay Wayne Allwine. That the pupil eventually surpassed the master. That his performance of Mickey Mouse -- over time -- actually became better than the one Walt Disney did.
Though -- knowing Wayne -- he'd have been quick to dismiss that idea. As MacDonald once told Allwine as he was getting ready to record Mickey's voice back in the 1970s; "Just remember, kid. You're only filling in for the boss."
But that said, Mickey Mouse was always in good hands as long as Wayne Allwine was here.
The entire JHM staff wishes to extend its heartfelt condolences to
the friends & family of Wayne Allwine during their time of sorrow
My heart and prayers go out to Russi at this sad time. It will be hard for her to do Minnie's voice as she will be reminded of her loss.
I'd love to think that Wayne will be met at the Pearly Gates by Walt himself and told, "Good job, kid. I couldn't have done it better myself."
I just saw the news this morning; I'm amazed this isn't bigger news.
Thanks for the article. As a huge fan of Mickey Mouse and the classic characters, I feel that a chapter of my life has ended. Wayne Allwine's long performance as Mickey is without a doubt unsurpassable, and he will be sorely, sorely missed.
My deepest condolences to the equally inspiring Russi Taylor; I hope she'll pull through.