A unique Donald Duck display from a Walt Disney WWII cartoon is heading for auction, after it was rediscovered in a Pasadena flea market.
The remarkable automaton depicts Donald Duck in a Nazi uniform, and was created by Disney Studios to promote the 1943 propaganda short ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’.
The cartoon features Donald as a suffering worker in Nazi Germany, poked out of bed by bayonets and forced to work in a munitions factory, where he has to repeatedly salute Hitler’s portrait as it passes on a conveyor belt.
He’s eventually driven crazy and begins to hallucinate, before waking up in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, to realise it was all a nightmare.
The cartoon was originally called ‘Donald Duck in Nutzi Land’, but was renamed when the song it features, ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’, became a hit, reaching #3 on the US charts.
The film was released on January 1, 1943 and was both a critical and commercial success. It also won Disney Studios its first Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, marking the first and only time Donald Duck won an Oscar.
The unique automaton of Donald, dressed as he appears in the film and popping out of a barrel of dynamite, was created by Disney as a theatre lobby display piece for the film’s premiere.
However, the sinister political themes and images of Donald wearing a Nazi uniform meant Walt Disney quickly pulled the film from circulation, and it remained unseen for decades.
The automaton also vanished from sight, before being rediscovered decades later at a flea market in Pasadena, California.
And in an incredible coincidence, it was found by one of the very few people who knew exactly what is was – legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball.
Kimball was one of the studio’s original core animators known as the ‘Nine Old Men’, who worked with Walt Disney to produce classics such as Snow White, Pinocchio and Cinderella.
When Kimball came across the piece, Donald was wearing a moth-eaten Santa Claus outfit and his Nazi uniform was long gone. But he instantly recognised it from the ‘Fuehrer’s Face’ lobby display, and rescued it as an important piece of Disney history.
He then enlisted the help of a Disney employee to restore it back to its original – and highly controversial – appearance. It then became part of his renowned personal collection of antique trains, toys and memorabilia, until his passing in 2002.
The restored automaton is now heading for the auction block, as part of the Rich Penn Spring Auction Event in Waterloo, Iowa on May 5-6.
The wide-ranging estimate lists the lot at anywhere from $50 up to $10,000 – and with no similar pieces to compare it to it, it’s anyone’s guess how much Donald will fetch.
But as a unique historic piece of Disneyana, and a perfect symbol of how America used pop culture to fight the Nazis during WWII, it looks set to attract attention from some serious collectors.