While many Disney enthusiasts often immediately associate veteran performer and voice artist Paul Frees with his performance of the Ghost Host from the Haunted Mansion, I would argue that the crowning achievement of his Disney resume was in fact the vocal creation of the early television era character, Professor Ludwig Von Drake. And although his work in this regard stretched over numerous episodes of Disney's Wonderful World of Color and the featurette Symposium on Popular Songs, Frees's Von Drake persona is no better represented and encapsulated than on the vintage 1961 vinyl LP Professor Ludwig Von Drake.
Released just prior to the debut of the Von Drake character on television in the fall of 1961, the album Professor Ludwig Von Drake immediately transcended the juvenile music genre to which it was classified. The album proved an energetic, frequently spontaneous, and consistently hilarious endeavor, often more akin to comedy albums of the time period than to the narrative-based childrens records that were then typically produced as media tie-ins.
In their book, Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records, authors Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar noted:
"In the early 1960s, comedy albums reached a level of popularity comparable to music LPs. Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Vaughn Meader, and Allan Sherman were topping the charts. This could be what helped inspire Johnson and Camarata to produce an LP with an accent on humor, and an accent was responsible for much of the humor."
Side One of the album features Sherman Brothers songs, most of which were drawn from episodes of the Wonderful World of Color. Side Two is noticeably more free form as Von Drake explains the recording process by way of a performance of the "Blue Danube" and a send-up of "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo" from Cinderella.
Frees brought to the character of Von Drake a wacky, irreverent spontaneity. According to Frees biographer Ben Ohmart, Frees once noted, "Walt Disney gave me a lot of liberty in portraying the Professor, and I've made him more personal than any of my other characters." Frees went on to say, "The Professor is bright, good-natured, has a sense of humor, and is marvelously absent-minded at times. But he has character. He is always driving at something and he is not beyond scolding you for lack of attention. When we have a story conference, the writers toss questions and situations at me. I ad-lib on tape and it's incorporated into the script."
Frees gift for ad-lib is apparent throughout the Professor Ludwig Von Drake LP. ("Now the Wonderful World of Color was originally on the television program, that of which I produced and starred and I directed . . . there's a character in there named Walt Frisbee or something that I draw and he's some kind a duck or something . . .") and ("This is Side Two for those of you who just came in late.") are just two of the many hilarious examples. Authors Hollis and Ehrbar noted that "Some of Frees's more colorful ad-libs reportedly did not make it onto the album but have been preserved for private listening."
Professor Ludwig Von Drake is currently available at the iTunes store.