Do you ever wonder whatever became of those unseen actors who gave voice to our most beloved animations? Bambi is one of my favorite movies of all time. It still makes me cry! The young deer sounded so sweet and innocent. As it turns out, the little boy in the starring role had quite the career as a child actor and grew up to become an accomplished military serviceman. In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, I hope you’ll join me in thanking him and the many other brave men and women who have served and who continue to serve our country with their strength and bravery.
Donnie Dunagan was just six years old when he voiced the role of the endearing fawn Bambi in Walt Disney’s 1942 animated classic. Donnie was born in Depression-era Texas and moved to Memphis, Tennessee as a small child. There a neighbor taught the then three-year-old to tap dance and encouraged the family to enter him in a talent contest at Memphis’ Orpheum Theater. Little Donnie won the $100 prize (pretty sizeable for 1937) and won the attention of a movie talent scout in the audience. The family relocated to Hollywood, where Donnie landed roles in eight successful films, including 1939’s Son of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and Tower of London with Basil Rathbone.
Donnie’s child acting career was cut short when his family fractured. He spent time in boarding homes as a teen before joining the United States Marine Corps. Donnie became the youngest Marine drill instructor ever and served three tours of duty in Vietnam. He went on to find tremendous success in leadership and counterintelligence with the Corps.
Donnie is now in his late 70s and is very proud of the role he played in the film. He says he concealed that aspect of his life during his military years, however, in fear of being ridiculed and nicknamed “Bambi.” When asked if there’s an incongruity about being a tough old Marine and loving Bambi, Dunagan says, “No, no!” He says, “I’ve been around some real tough guys, and I promise you on my honor: The strongest guys I’ve known in life would pick up a wounded baby kitty on the side of the road. Yet you wouldn’t want to go against them in combat. That is not inconsistent. It is part of the same ethos.” In fact, after voicing and viewing the finished film as a child, he could never bring himself to shoot an animal.
This weekend when you celebrate with friends and family, please keep in mind what the day is truly about, show your gratitude to those who serve and remember those who have fallen in the line of duty.