Donald Duck is so much more than just Mickey Mouse’s best friend. The beloved Disney character has starred in dozens of his own movies, books, comic strips, and even briefly enjoyed a period in the forties when he was more popular than the head mouse. What better way to celebrate Donald Duck Day than with some fun facts about Disney’s most well-known quacker?
1. HE’S BEEN A STAR FOR OVER 80 YEARS.
June 9 isn’t a randomly chosen day for Donald-centric celebrations: It marks the first time Donald appeared on the big screen. On June 9, 1934, Donald co-starred in the Disney “Silly Symphonies” short The Wise Little Hen (a spin on the fairy tale The Little Red Hen), where he appeared as a lazy duck who shirks helping out on a farm along with best pal Peter Pig. The pair get their comeuppance when their wise farming hen friend enjoys the literal fruits of her labors (lots of corn), while the two of them don’t get anything yummy to eat.
2. HIS BIRTHDAY IS MARCH 13, 1914.
Traditionally, a character's first appearance in a cartoon marks its birthday—but in a late '40s cartoon, it was revealed that Donald was born on March 13th. In his authorized biography published in 1941, we find out he was born on Friday the 13th. Some dedicated fans found all of the instances of Friday, March 13 and, using other clues from the Duck-verse, determined that Donald was born on March 13, 1914.
3. HE GOT HIS FIRST STARRING ROLE IN 1937.
Although Donald had lots of supporting roles after the success of The Little Red Hen, he didn’t get his first starring role until the 1937 short, Don Donald. The eight-minute cartoon follows Donald’s adventures in Mexico (including riding a burro, which goes poorly), though it’s mainly centered on his bumbling attempts to win over his lady love, Donna Duck.
4. HIS FIRST LOVE WAS NOT DAISY.
Like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck are one of Disney’s most beloved couples. But it wasn’t always that way. There’s been some debate over whether or not Daisy and Donna (a modern lady who isn’t always taken with Donald’s attempts at wooing her) are really the same person, just a duck by a different name, an issue that Disney attempted to clear up in 1951, when Donna appeared in Bob Karp’s daily comic strips. By then, Daisy was Donald’s main squeeze, and Karp’s strips imagined Donna as a sassy new neighbor (from Mexico, of course) who flirts with Donald, much to Daisy’s dismay.
5. DONALD WAS A WARTIME SCREEN STAR.
The famed duck starred in a series of shorts during World War II that involved the positive-thinking duck developing deep appreciation for the American troops and a hefty dislike of Nazi Germany (referred to as “Nutzi Land" in the films). In the most famous of these, Der Fuehrer’s Face, Donald has a horrible nightmare that he is working in a Nutzi Land factory, a dream he’s more than grateful to wake up from. The film won the Oscar for Best Short Subject, Cartoons in 1943, and turned Donald into something of a hero.
6. HE’S A UNIQUE MASCOT.
Donald is—at least on merchandise and apparel—the mascot of the University of Oregon’s Fighting Ducks sports teams. The duck got the gig thanks to an informal deal, made in 1947, between athletic director Leo Harris and Walt Disney himself. But in 2010, Disney and Oregon agreed that the Duck that appeared sideline at U of O games wasn’t actually Donald, freeing him up to do more promotional activities. But fear not! You can still get all sorts of Donald athletic gear next time you visit Oregon.
7. HIS TWIN SISTER WAS AN ASTRONAUT (ACCORDING TO THE DUTCH).
Fans of Donald know that he’s uncle to the plucky young ducks Huey, Dewey, and Louie, but what of their mother? The fate of Donald’s twin sister—known as Thelma, Della, or Dumbella in various incarnations—has always been a little unclear (as has the boys’ parentage, but that’s a worry for another day), though a Dutch cartoon purports to have an answer: she became an astronaut.
8. HE REALLY IS RELATED TO THE CLAN MCDUCK.
One of Donald’s main developers, cartoonist Carl Barks, helped kit out the Duck family tree back in the '50s (Barks also created Scrooge McDuck). Part of that expansion was to tie the Duck family in with the McDucks by marriage. Donald’s mother Hortense is a McDuck, and she married into the Ducks when she hooked up with Donald’s dad, Quackmore.
9. HE’S ALSO RELATED TO THE COOTS, THE GANDERS, AND THE GOOSES.
In 1993, cartoonist Don Rosa helped to build out the history of Scrooge McDuck in a 12-part comic book series, which included a family tree that cleared up a lot of confusion regarding the Duck’s origins. The tree made it plain that the Ducks are related to nearly every prominent family in Duckburg (his hometown). He shares a relative (Cornelius Coot) with the Goose, Gander, and Coot families. (Still, the Ducks are the most famous.)
10. DONALD IS COLORBLIND.
Despite his snazzy sartorial taste—mainly sailor shirts and the like— Donald is actually believed to be at least partially colorblind. In the wartime short Donald Gets Drafted, Donald goes to his local draft board and joins the army, getting accepted despite identifying a green card with “green” written on it as blue, having flat feet, and having no brain (apparently, being a duck was not an issue).