Monthly Archives: February 2005

How Bambi fought the Viet Cong

Sixty-three years after Disney’s orphaned fawn endeared cinemagoers with his wide soppy eyes, Xan Brooks talks to Donnie Dunagan, the voice of Bambi, on childhood fame and surviving bullets

The tanned old man in the bifocals and cowboy boots could stand as a living emblem for America’s loss of innocence. He has worked as a spy in cold war Berlin, and came under fire while fighting in Vietnam. The collapse of Enron ate his savings and he is now struggling to make ends meet. But once, long ago, Donnie Dunagan was the voice of Bambi. He said “bird-a” and “butterfly” and mistook a skunk for a flower.

Back then Dunagan was a Hollywood child star, plucked from Depression-era squalor and contracted out to RKO. Aged four he was the imperilled tyke in Son of Frankenstein (alongside Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi), before jumping ship to make Disney’s 1942 classic. He recalls the “great ice-cream” they served in the cafeteria and the way Uncle Walt brought real-life deer to the studio because the animators were city kids and had never seen one before. “Mr Disney was a very nice man, very courteous,” he remembers. “Some people are the boss because they wear a badge saying ‘I’m the boss’. But Mr Disney didn’t need that. I had the sense that he was a natural leader.”

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