Did you know Donnie Dunagan, now a retired marine was the voice behind Bambi?
Don’t you feel amazing when an old man recollects stories of his childhood? A childhood marked by stardom, a childhood which gave him the sweetest memories of this life, and a childhood of which he is proud. Let’s tell you the story of Donnie Dunagan, a retired marine, who was a child star of Hollywood back in the 1930s and 1940s.
Donnie Dunagan is the man who as a 6 year old boy had given voice to the frail and sweet dear Bambi, a character we all love even today.This Disney classic which was released in 1942, has the power to win the hearts of anyone who watches it , and the prime reason for this is the voice behind Bambi. So here you go, meet the man who was Bambi back then, enjoy reading this amazing story of stardom, a sweet secret, and many fond memories of an 81 year old man.
1 How did he come to Hollywood?
Donnie was born in Texas but moved with his parents to Memphis, Tennessee during the depression era. One day while walking on the road he saw a man who was dancing on the sound of music being played on radio on the footpath. He was the relative of the popular dancer Peg Leg Bets and offered Donnie’s mother to teach him how to dance. Donnie was highly talented and a quick learner and these skills helped him in getting a chance to participate in a talent show in Memphis. He won the show and someone from the audience contacted his parents and suggested them to take him to Hollywood to audition for a couple of roles.
2 Life as a child star
After his first contract with RKO Studios, his life changed overnight. He worked as a child actor in seven movies from which Bambi is closest to his heart as it is still loved by people around the world. Mr. Walt Disney had hired him to be the model and voice of the Bambi (a white-tailed fawn) at the age of 6. According to Donnie Dunagan, it was his large and bright brown eyes that attracted Mr. Walt Disney to finalize him for the facial model for the baby deer’s expression. He spent months in front of the illustrators, who would sketch his expressions.
He remembers that there was this expression which was just not coming on his face, it was supposed to be for a scene in which Bambi would be kissed by a doe, and a look of digust had to appear on the dear’s face. But the illustrators were simply unable to bring that look on Donnie’s face, finally someone asked him to pretend as if he just had castor oil, and this did it all. He got the perfect expression. Later, he was involved in doing the voice over for the young Bambi.
Donnie Dunagan even recalls that Walt Disney was a positive and real leader, people respected him and were happy to work with him.
3 Life After Hollywood
Bambi was the last film he worked on. His family broke up and Donnie found himself alone. He spent a little period in the orphanage and at the age of 14, he was living in a boarding house and supported himself by doing different types of jobs. But soon after, he got the best opportunity of his life.
4 A celebrated Military career
He feels lucky to have joined Marine Corps at the age of 18 during the Korean War and this thrilling chapter of his life ended after 25 years. He retired with the rank of a Major in 1977. During his service, he was promoted 13 times and made many noticeable achievements. He is a Vietnam War veteran who got many injuries during the war. He also became the youngest drill instructor of that time. He had received three Purple Hearts, a Bronze star and worked in counter intelligence during the Cold War.
5 His Secret
Interestingly, Donnie never wanted his secret of being the voice of Bambi to be known to anyone. Although he loved Bambi, but he thought it would be really embarrassing , if people found that a tough marine portrayed such a frail character on screen. Infact during the 25 years of his military career, he never ever confided to any his colleagues, but one morning he got the shock of his life. The commanding general of MCRD called him and asked him to audit the auditors. Donnie was quite busy so he respectfully asked him “General when do I have time to do that”? The general pulled his glasses down and said “You will audit the auditors, won’t you, Major Bambi?” This secret got spilled out in front of the General through a red, big top secret folder which was kept at his table with Dunagan’s name on it.
6 The Pride in his eyes today
Donnie, now a retired marine feels proud to be a part of Bambi as it has touched many generations and will be loved by several generations to come. He opened his secret box of newspaper clippings of that time after 50 years, and now that his secret is out in the open, he is taking all the love with wide open arms. He has been making appearances at film fan conventions so that he can meet his admirers and sign autographs. Though he hates self-promotion, but he has given permission to his wife Dana, to run a website www.donniedunagan.com, where he has shared moments of his celebrated childhood.