When Walt Disney’s
weekly TV show moved from ABC to NBC in 1961, it signaled
more than just a change in venue. For one thing, that’s when the show switched from black and
white to color. For another, the first NBC episode introduced a character who would serve as co-host and announcer
for the compilations of old theatrical cartoons that were to form an
increasingly prominent part of the show’s offerings –
Professor Ludwig Von Drake.
Ludwig Von Drake first appeared in An Adventure in Color, which aired on September 24, 1961. This made Von Drake the first “marketable” Disney animated character created for television.
The German-accented Professor was simultaneously introduced in the Disney
comic books and the Donald Duck newspaper strip, where he was identified as one of Donald’s uncles.
For a short time (VERY short –
it only lasted four issues),
even had a
comic book of his own, published by Dell Comics between 1961-1962.
Von Drake’s voice was provided by the legendary voice actor Paul Frees,
famous to most Disney fans for his work as the Ghost Host in the Haunted Mansion.
During the 1960s, Professor Ludwig Von Drake
hosted over a dozen cartoon compilations. Von Drake also lent
his universal expertise to such non-compilation animated offerings as Three Tall Tales and The Truth about Mother Goose (both 1963). He was even shoehorned into the TV version of Fun and Fancy Free – the feature that has Mickey, Donald and Goofy in Mickey and the Beanstalk – where he replaced Jiminy Cricket as the emcee! In 1962, Von Drake appeared in the Oscar-nominated theatrical release, A Symposium of Popular Songs,
done in an interesting cut-out technique rather than as traditional cel animation. Thirty years later, he co-starred in
Quack Pack, a mid-1990s TV cartoon about Donald’s nephews as teenagers.
Ludwig Von Drake has never been one of Disney’s quote/unquote “superstars,” but he remains a well-loved character to this day.
“I’m a little baffled that Disney is doing an adaptation of Jack & the Beanstalk. I mean, have people forgotten about the Mickey & the Beanstalk segment of Fun & Fancy Free? That was technically an adaptation. I just hope Disney isn’t starting to get redundant with its ideas.”