OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — The click of an old suitcase is the only sound the treasure inside makes any more. But Maggie Barnes can still reach in and touch her grandfather’s pride and joy, the figure that made his funny, little voice famous. The grand-daughter of Clarence ‘Ducky’ Nash delivered her family treasure to the Oklahoma History Center. “He hasn’t been out in 27 years,” she says. “Plus,” she smiles. “He’s actually my uncle.”
“Who can’t love that guy,” says Maggie referring to a 2 foot tall plastic ventriloquist dummy. “Even when he’s quiet he’s kind of cute.” The duck you know by sight. Donald Duck first appeared in a Disney short film in 1934. He went on to star or co-star in hundreds of movies. Donald is still going but the original voice belonged to a gentleman named Clarence Nash.
He was a farm kid from Watonga who liked to imitate the animals he cared for, especially a baby goat. Maggie has heard the story and says, “This goat used to make this strange sound when you took the bottle out of its mouth and Clarence started imitating that. Then he realized he could make words with that sound.”
Young Clarence never gave up his funny voices. He had a short stint on the vaudeville circuit. He was part of a radio show in Los Angeles and had a gig doing funny voices and bird impressions for a local milk company. In the early 1930’s he paid a timely visit to the Walt Disney Studios. He did his goat routine but Disney was already seeing duck. Maggie says, “Walt came in the room and Clarence says, ‘who’s this guy.’ Walt asked him to the voice again. Then he lit up and said, ‘that’s our talking duck.’ ”
For more than 50 years Clarence and his Oklahoma bred sidekick were always together. He used to visit schools and hospitals with his animated duck dummy. Maggie brought it to Oklahoma, loaning in to the History Center for a show called ‘Oklahoma @ the Movies’ opening in May, 2012. To most people it’s a pop culture icon. To Maggie, the plastic figure represents her grandfather too. When asked to put her feelings into words she breaks down for a few seconds, then says quietly, “It means a lot.”
Clarence ‘Ducky’ Nash passed away in 1985, but not before touring the country for his duck’s 50th birthday. He even came back to his old hometown in Watonga as a comic hero. The original voice may be silent but the treasure in the case and a squeaky little, Oklahoma made echo still make us smile.