2016 has already had more than its fair share of notable deaths, from legends of the music world to beloved actors to genius comics artists who left us far too soon. But there’s one passing I’d like to recognize here. On May 19 at the impressive age of 96, actor Alan Young died of natural causes. Most of the obituaries I’ve seen focus on his time playing the straight man to a certain talking horse. But to Disney fans, he was and ever shall be the voice of Scrooge McDuck.
Scrooge, as the most devoted fans of the world’s richest duck already know, got his start in the Disney comics. He was created by legendary comics writer and artist Carl Barks and first appeared in 1947 in a story called “Christmas on Bear Mountain.” An old miser named Scrooge was a natural fit for a Christmas story, but Barks soon saw the character’s potential to do more than one-off holiday tale. Scrooge soon became a regular fixture in the Duck comics, whisking his nephew Donald and Donald’s three nephews off on fantastic adventures in search of treasure. By 1952, Scrooge was the star of his own ongoing comic series, where Barks and other creators would continue to chronicle his adventures for decades to come.
It took a few more years before Scrooge started making appearances in other media. He had brief appearances on a record from 1960 and on the popular Mickey Mouse Club TV series. His full onscreen debut came in 1967 in a short educational cartoon called Scrooge McDuck and Money. The cartoon is a basic lesson in economics, so Scrooge was the obvious choice to deliver sound financial advice to his great nephews. He was voiced by actor Bill Thompson, a frequent Disney voice actor who also played the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and Mr. Smee in Peter Pan.
Alan Young, meanwhile, had been performing in radio since the 1940s. He successfully made the jump to television in 1950 with a well-received televised version of his radio program The Alan Young Show. Young continued to appear in Tv and film roles over the next decade, but it wasn’t until 1961 that he found his biggest onscreen success. Young was cast in the role of Wilbur Post, an architect and owner of an unusual horse by the name of Mister Ed. This became Young’s best known role. The series ran until 1966. It would be almost ten years before Young’s career path crossed with that of an extremely wealthy duck.
The idea of a version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with a cast of existing Disney characters had been kicking around for a while by the early 1970s. Illustrations of the concept already existed, but the project hadn’t yet materialized. It was Gary Krisel – supervisor of product development at Disney’s records division at the time – who came across the artwork and decided to make the idea into a record. Krisel knew Alan Young from his college days and thought he would be a good fit to head up the production of the record. Young ended up as the project producer, primary writer, and – most importantly – lead voice actor. In the earlier days of Disney, it was far more common to have different voice actors portraying the major characters in media other than the films than it is now. So Young ended up voicing characters such as Mickey Mouse. But it was the elderly miser duck, a no-brainer for the role of Ebenezer Scrooge – who was the best fit for Young. Young was born to Scottish parents and spent some of his childhood in Scotland, so a Scottish accent came easily to him.
The record worked so well that Disney decided to adapt it into an animated short, the first theatrical Mickey Mouse cartoon in over 30 years. The animated Mickey’s Christmas Carol played alongside a rerelease of The Rescuers stateside and other Disney films abroad. Several of the voices were recast for the new version, but Alan Young’s Scrooge was so spot on that he reprised his role for the short.
Disney – and now head of Disney television Gary Krisel – came knocking once again in the late 80s with a TV series that would cement Young as the voice of Scrooge McDuck for a generation. DuckTales premiered in 1987 and became one of Disney’s first animated television hits. Though the series and subsequent movie developed some new characters and concepts, the overall story remained largely faithful to the original Barks comics. Some episodes were outright adapted from Barks storylines. DuckTales gave Young the opportunity to play the real Scrooge – rather than Scrooge portraying the Dickens character – and give him the perfect balance of miserly crankiness, adventurous spirit, and childlike joy, all wrapped up in a convincing Scottish brogue.
Though Scrooge didn’t spend too much time in the spotlight after DuckTales ended, Young continued to voice the character in various TV cameos, direct-to-home-market projects, and video games over the next few decades. His final performances as Scrooge were in a few of the excellent current Mickey Mouse shorts. But his true Scrooge swan song is DuckTales: Remastered. This loving recreation of the classic Nintendo game keeps the gameplay intact while taking advantage of modern gaming technology to update the graphics and sound. What was once a few meager lines of text becomes a full-fledged narrative with all of the surviving original TV series voice actors. Young’s voice was showing his advanced age, but he remained a great fit for Scrooge and it was a joy to hear him join the character for one last adventure.
A character like Scrooge McDuck who’s been through so many incarnations – including a planned new DuckTales series due out next year – owed his success to many creators. Alan Young is certainly one of the most impactful contributors to the character, giving Scrooge a voice, personality, and heart that will be remembered for years to come.