Happy Birthday Jimmy Macdonald!

Posted on Fri, 06/03/2016 - 14:29

In the history of The Walt Disney Studios, there once was a five-word phrase that had the potential to strike fear into anyone’s heart, regardless of the recipient’s status or role:

“Walt wants to see you.”

This may have been true of the then-40 year old sound effects virtuoso John James “Jimmy” Macdonald, who was called into Walt’s office while his department was in the middle of production on the oft-delayed, “Mickey and the Beanstalk” segment of a package feature called Fun and Fancy Free (1947).

Possibly fretting over any number of equally-absurd possibilities as to why he might have been in trouble—whether he had stiffed Walt in the hallway of his standard greeting, taken the last cherry turnover in the studio commissary, or accidentally parked in Walt’s parking space—he definitely was surprised at Walt’s very personal, and very important ,request. In a 1947 radio show, Walt had acknowledged, “The life and ventures of Mickey Mouse have been closely bound up with my own personal and professional life. It is understandable that I should have sentimental attachment for the little personage who played so big a part in the course of Disney Productions and has been so happily accepted as an amusing friend wherever films are shown around the world. He still speaks for me and I still speak for him.”

However, during production of “Mickey and the Beanstalk” Walt found the demands of his studio had increased to the point where he no longer had the time to go into the sound stage to record Mickey’s dialogue. He trusted that Jimmy, with his prodigious talents, would be able to carry on in his stead.

Walt’s trust was not misplaced. While Macdonald was the man responsible for replicating both common and unique background sound effects for Disney’s cartoons and “True-Life Adventures” films, he was certainly no stranger to character voices either. He was the seminal voice of Chip the chipmunk as well as the source of some signature Dwarf “yodeling, whistling, and sneezing” for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). His selection as Mickey’s new voice perhaps made Macdonald the frontrunner for future Disney mice as well, as he would go on to voice Jaq and Gus in Cinderella (1950) and the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland(1951).

Jimmy Macdonald’s contributions to Disney films are not solely relegated to behind-the-scenes work, however, MacDonald has a couple of very high-profile (though uncredited) cameos under his belt as well, as the timpani player for Stokowski’s orchestra in the opening sequence of Fantasia (1940) as well as a sound effects artist for the behind-the-scenes Casey Jr. sequence for Dumbo  in The Reluctant Dragon (1941).

As if he didnot have enough obscure credits to impress your friends with at trivia night, here’s another Easter egg: if you ever watched 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and thought to yourself, “That angelic humming coming from Kirk Douglas could not possibly be his own voice, and is clearly a cleverly orchestrated hoax,” then you’ll be delighted to know that your oddly-specific suspicion has merit. Douglas’s on-screen humming is credited to none other than Jimmy Macdonald himself.

Macdonald’s extracurricular activities are also noteworthy, as somehow in between days of creating and operating a cache of over 500 different contraptions with which to replicate sound effects, he also found time to play in the studio’s popular jazz band “Firehouse Five Plus Two” with the likes of Disney Legends Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, Harper Goff, and George Bruns, among others. Walt enjoyed his his “in-house” band so much that they were featured on episodes of the “Mickey Mouse Club” and played live down at Disneyland.

May 19th would have been Jimmy’s 110th birthday. We invite you to celebrate Walt’s chosen substitute by making some noise, Jimmy Macdonald-sound effects style!

Chris Mullen

Guest Experience Associate at The Walt Disney Family Museum