I don’t remember the exact date, but it was not long after the completion of the Walt Disney feature film, “101 Dalmatians.” Story master, Bill Peet had a good deal of work completed on the upcoming feature, “The Sword in the Stone,” but we were not quite ready to begin animation. Conveniently, a good deal of television work needed to be done and that would tide us over until the feature was ready to begin production.
After a long and successful run on ABC, Walt Disney decided to move his television show, “Disneyland” to a new network. Color television was the hottest new thing and it appeared that NBC and its parent company, RCA was about to take the lead in this new technology. Clearly, the network needed a big new show to introduce color to the viewing public and Walt Disney was the obvious choice. The Old Maestro would rebrand his Disneyland show as “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” The studio moved into high gear using the Disney characters partnering with Radio Corporation of America and the NBC Television network. I still remember the iconic RCA dog being replaced by Disney’s Pluto. If you remember the famous image, the RCA dog is sitting looking into the victrola’s megaphone. Suddenly, the image had whole new relevance after being given the Disney touch.
Before long, we had a script up on the boards in the upstairs story room. Appearing in glorious black&white, Walt Disney would introduce the new show speaking of colors influence on Disney films and the impact it had on storytelling. A brief tour of the Ink&Paint Department would lead the transition as it takes us from the black&white image to full color. Having successfully navigated the Ink&Paint Department, Walt Disney would introduce us to a new expert on color. After all, who better to explain the intricacies of color than the renown expert on practically everything, Professor Ludvig Von Drake.
Story man, Bill Berg first created the wacky professor while developing the storyline for the television show. Berg’s rough, cartoony sketches would be handed down to the master character designer and animator, Milt Kahl who would lead the animation on the zany professor. Von Drake would be given a voice by the celebrated voice actor, Paul Frees. Frees was a Disney veteran who had done voices for darn near everything Disney including films and theme park attractions. You’ll hear Paul’s voice in Journey to Inner Space or The Haunted Mansion to name a few. Once Frees had recorded his tracks, we began work on the animated section of Show number one on Wonderful World of Color. In many ways, it was my first introduction to Milt Kahl, the directing animator I would assist on the next Disney feature film. This television job was the perfect way to begin my time with the obstreperous, master animator. No worries. Working with Milt Kahl was a delight and sketching Professor Ludvig Von Drake was one of the most fun jobs I’ve had at Disney Animation.
Professor Ludvig Von Drake was initially considered a “one shot,” but the zany character proved to be so popular he was brought back again and again as show host and resident expert on practically everything. I continued to work on the wacky character over time including a brief stint as Ward Kimball’s assistant. If my sketch of Von Drake appears on model it’s because I know this Disney character pretty darn well.