Monday, January 12, 2009

Vintage Vinyl: Professor Ludwig Von Drake

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.


Inkydog said...

I could not agree with you more. Of the stable of voice actors Disney employed, Frees was at the top. Of everything that he did, LVD was far and away my favorite.

My current favorite is Corey Burton, and not coincidentally, he's Disney's choice to match up new voice overs to Free's classic ones.

Anonymous said...

Great article once again, Jeff.

Some of the classic Disney LPs that I'd like to see you cover in future "Vintage Vinyl" entries are "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House" (both the 1964 and 1978 versions), the "Donald Duck in Trick or Treat" storyteller LP and the various park attraction soundtrack/storyteller LP's (Tiki Room, Small World, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Country Bears, Hall of Presidents, America Sings, etc.).

Thomas Phillip said...

Ludwig Von Drake is simply hysterical. His Wonderful World of Color segments were my absolute favorite, and not only were they ridiculously comical but they were actually informative for kids. The mix of entertainment and information in children's programing is a lost art now days.

great article Jeff!

Anonymous said...

That is what Walt Disney did best - educating the public under the guise of entertainment.

Today's media (and today's Disney) could learn a lesson from that.

Anonymous said...

It is wonderful to know the album is available at itunes. I used to read the comics in Brazil, where I am from. Ludwig got immensely popular down there, his name was "Ludovico"and the surname "sabe tudo", that means "knows it all" was added. People used to compare those that knew a lot- or to call them that name- to Ludwig. How nostalgic! Thanks for the story and information!

Unknown said...

I cannot remember which podcast had the audio but a couple years back they aired "outtakes" of this talented voice talent where he was just ad-libbing like mad and moving between many of his different famous voices.

It was hilarious and at the time reminded me of what Robin Williams is notorious for doing and driving his directors crazy

Rob said...

Jeff, what a treat to see you regularly posting on the site again. Of all the Disney blogs I frequent, this is the one I have enjoyed most. I feel silly that I haven't let you know before now how much I appreciate the insights and effort that go into all your work.

I read with great interest (and understanding!) your comments a while back about needing to keep things, including one's hobbies, in perspective. I thought it was wise and healthy to take a step back from it all, though I confess I missed your regular posts. I can only hope that your have achieved that balance you described, and I wish you all the best in the new year. Keep up the great work--we really enjoy it--but never lose sight of the things that are truly important in life. Congrats also on bringing in George Taylor as co-blogger. A fine choice! Take care and thanks again.