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Donnie Dunagan: I was Bambi

It was more than 75 years ago, but I remember that call. It came through on the kitchen phone at our home in Westwood, California, and my mother answered. It was Walt Disney on the other end. He wanted me to talk about a role in a new feature he was working on; a cartoon about a group of animals in a forest. My mother thought it sounded terrific.

My agent hated it. I was only five years old, but I’d been in six movies and he said he had a bigger part lined up for me in a western. He came over and started shouting. He said the Disney movie would ruin my career and started speaking down to my mother. That made me so mad I fired him. The following week, Variety ran a story: Five-Year-Old Actor Fires His Manager.

Soon afterwards, my mother and I were driven to the Disney studio. Disney was there to meet us, all smiles. He was this wonderful, gracious man. That was my first and lasting impression of him. In his office, he had several shots of me from my previous films. We talked for a while, then he turned to my mother and said: ‘He’ll be wonderful for this part.’

They had to capture my facial expressions for the animation, so I spent hours sitting on a stool with a semi-circle of artists around me. I remember thinking, they must have a million coloured pencils between them. They’d give me these instructions such as, ‘Look left, look right, hold it!’ There’s a scene where the girl deer, Faline, kisses Bambi on the cheek. To get me to pose for that, one of the men said, ‘Donnie, give me your worst face, like something awful has happened to you. Have you had a spanking recently, or some bad medicine?’ I said, ‘Sir, my mother gave me some castor oil. It was disgusting.’ And the man said, ‘Imagine you just had a double dose of that castor oil.’ I creased up my face and they shouted, ‘Hold it!’

The voice work took about three months. I was on my own in a little sound booth, reading lines, with the artwork in front of me, so I could see what the deer was doing.

The premiere in 1942 was packed, with people standing in the aisles. I remember the reaction when Bambi’s mother was shot. There were gasps and parents covered their children’s eyes. People still talk to me about the movie, and inevitably everyone mentions that scene. The original artwork had Bambi’s mother shot on camera, with a bullet hole and lots of blood. But because of the second world war, Disney said that was too sensitive. He had them tone it down and instead you hear a bang and she falls off screen.

By the time the second world war was over, I was done with movies. I kept quiet about my acting career through school, and then I joined the marines when I was 18. I worked my way up to major and I kind of forgot about that little deer.

But there was one incident in Vietnam that brought it all back. There’s a scene in the movie where Bambi is shot and you see his father appear. He says, ‘Bambi, get up, get up, you have to get up.’ During a mission in Vietnam, a grenade went off near me, and I took a bullet to the leg. I was down and dizzy, and then this young sergeant was standing over me, lifting my head. He said, ‘Sir, get up, you have to get up.’ And there I was Bambi again.

A lot of people don’t know it was shot almost 6,000 ft long. By late 1941, Disney was in enormous debt and America was entering the war. He needed to get Bambi out, so he cut it by over 2,000 ft. It’s a shame, because the film should be 38 minutes longer, and some beautiful scenes are missing. But I hear they recently unearthed that footage and are restoring it. That’s something I would love to see.

ВОПРОС 1: Donnie’s mother found Disney’s proposal …
1) awesome.
2) demanding.
3) excessive.
4) frightening.

ВОПРОС 2: Donnagan fired his manager because …
1) the boy wanted to be independent in his choice.
2) the boy was eager to try something else besides films.
3) the man hated Disney.
4) the man was rude.

ВОПРОС 3: Variety mentioned in the report is …
1) a magazine.
2) a reporter.
3) a theatre.
4) an animation studio.

ВОПРОС 4: Artists worked with Donnie for long hours …
1) to And a proper make-up for him.
2) to make the face of Bambi.
3) to train to him express the eeded emotions.
4) to understand whether the boy suited the project.

ВОПРОС 5: Donnie Dunagan first saw the deer on screen …
1) when the film was restored.
2) when the first night was on.
3) when the soundtrack was being made.
4) when he joined the army.

ВОПРОС 6: The memories of the film came back to the actor after a while when …
1) he experienced his first kiss with a girl at school.
2) he was wounded on the battlefield.
3) his father came to visit him in hospital.
4) his mother was killed.

ВОПРОС 7: Some episodes were withdrawn from the film because
1) they were too painful to see.
2) the film was too long to be watched by children.
3) the company was lacking money.
4) the company was failing to meet the deadline.

ВОПРОС 1: – 1
ВОПРОС 2: – 4
ВОПРОС 3: – 1
ВОПРОС 4: – 2
ВОПРОС 5: – 3
ВОПРОС 6: – 2
ВОПРОС 7: – 3