OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Child star Donnie Dunagan, aka voice of 'Bambi,' wasn't afraid to face Frankenstein

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2011-03-02T00:00:00Z 2011-03-22T21:40:37Z OFFBEAT: Child star Donnie Dunagan, aka voice of 'Bambi,' wasn't afraid to face FrankensteinBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

If you check out my INK cover story today in this section saluting the anniversary DVD release of the classic Walt Disney 1942 film "Bambi," you'll find my interview with former child actor Donnie Dunagan.

Dunagan was just 6 years old when he was cast as the voice of young Bambi by Walt Disney.

He was in Chicago last Monday for a private screening of the new remastered "Bambi" edition for an event held at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

But in addition to talking to him about his recollections of working with Mr. Disney, I was also very excited to meet 76-year-old Dunagan to talk with him about one of his earlier films.

Yep, by the time he was cast as "Bambi," it was his seventh film in two years.

Previously, at the age of just 5 years old, he starred in the Universal Pictures classic horror film "Son of Frankenstein."

It not only starred the legendary Boris Karloff as Dr. Frankenstein's famed flat-headed monster creation, but also equally legendary Bela Lugosi as the mad scientist's hunchback assistant Ygor.

Dunagan played the adorable son of the great actor Basil Rathbone's character, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, who brings his wife and son to his family's namesake village to move into the family castle. Of course, Ygor, who is still living on the property on the caretaker's quarters, convinces the young heir to revive his father's monstrous creation, despite the danger to his own family.

In the film's big finale, the monster has little Donnie under his arm, while threatening to throw him into a bubbling pool of steaming sulfur at the bottom of a pit.

I was amazed that Dunagan said he wasn't afraid to be around either Karloff and Lugosi while they were under those heavy layers of scary make-up.

"Boris Karloff was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet and he was always laughing and smiling," said Dunagan, who is now 76.

He said Karloff also gave him a Christmas gift in 1939 that resulted in him getting into lots of trouble by the time he was at the Walt Disney Studios to make "Bambi."

"Mr. Karloff gave me this wooden box and inside was a metal water gun made in Germany and wow, did it work great," he said.

"I wasn't allowed to have it right away, but when I was given it a couple years later, I got in trouble for squirting people with it while on the Disney Studio lot. The studio security took it away from me one day and 70 years later, I'm still waiting to get it back."

Dunagan also still laughs at how loudly he recites his lines in the film "Son of Frankenstein."

"I was not a great match to be the little boy of the very British Basil Rathbone's character," Dunagan said.

"I'm born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and I had this southern accent. We were on these huge wide-open castle sets and they kept telling me how the microphones were 'way up there' and how I had to talk extra loud."

Dunagan also told me the only fellow child star he got to know a little while working on "Bambi" was Cammie King Conlon, the former child actress who had earlier portrayed Bonnie Blue, the doomed daughter of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind."

I had the honor of talking with Cammie a few times during her Chicago visits prior to her death in September at the age of 76.

She also voiced the young doe Faline in Walt Disney's "Bambi" three years later after "Gone with the Wind," which was her final film role.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

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