Sunday, July 19, 2009

July 19: A True Character

Most Disney World fans will recognize these familiar words:
"Hold on to your hat and glasses... this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!"
It's the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad safety announcement spoken by actor Dal McKennon - and he was born on this day in 1919.
Born Dallas R. McKennon in LaGrande, Oregon, he was a successful actor, comedian, and prolific voice actor whose career spanned radio, TV, and feature films. Imitating sounds since a youngster, McKennon briefly studied drama in school.
His early credits include the voice of Gumby for Art Clokey's television series Gumby, the voice of Archie Andrews for Filmation's Archie series, and the primary voice of Buzz Buzzard in the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. McKennon even created and hosted his own daily children's TV show in the 1950s. He was also the original voices of all 3 Kellogg's Rice Krispies characters - Snap, Crackle, and Pop.
But Disney fans may recognize his voice (and his face) from countless appearances in films and park attractions. His association with Disney started with the 1955 Lady and the Tramp as he showed his versatility voicing 4 different characters: Toughy, Pedro, Professor, and Hyena.
Mckennon also voiced Owl in Sleeping Beauty, had a bit part in Son of Flubber (playing a juror), voiced Fox in Mary Poppins, was the voice of the Bees in Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, voiced Bear in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, played a farmer in The Cat from Outer Space, and played 'Saloon Man 1' in the comedy Hot Lead and Cold Feet.
Fans of early Disneyland may remember McKennon as the narrator of the now retired Mine Train thru Nature's Wonderland. Epcot fans know him as the voice of Benjamin Franklin in The American Adventure, an Audio-Animatronics stage show. He can also be heard as the voice of Zeke in The Country Bear Jamboree. Haunted Mansion fans may not realize it is McKennon's voice you hear as the deaf old man who is unable to decipher the mummy muttering through his bandages - "What's that? Louder!"
McKennon was also a major contributor to Disneyland Records. He appeared on numerous recordings over a period of 15 years beginning with the 1957 Stories of Uncle Remus.
Later in life, McKennon also sailed one night a week on board The Queen of the West riverboat (which sailed from Portland, Oregon on 7-day cruises). He provided entertainment telling tales while sporting a white beard, prospector's hat, and overalls. "Dal looked like he had just left a yard sale at the Gabby Hayes estate," explained Jim Coston (a professional banjoist who worked aboard the riverboat with McKennon).
He continued to work well into 2001 voicing the claymation character Gumby (one of his first and best-known voices).
His unique film career also included working with director Alfred Hitchcock (in The Birds) and Elvis Presley (in Clambake). Although easily identifiable on-screen, McKennon had the special ability to bend his voice in endless variations.
He passed away just 5 days short of his 90th birthday in 2009.

Click HERE for more July 19 Disney history.

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