Almost from the first time I saw the American Adventure at Epcot, I enjoyed the voice of Benjamin Franklin. It is one of those voices that sounds so natural that you think that must be how Franklin actually sounded 200 years ago.
Several years after I first saw the show, I learned that the voice of Benjamin Franklin was performed by Dallas McKennon. So I started looking around to see what else he had done. I remembered seeing his voice in the credits of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, where he was the voice of the animated bear that Professor Browne, Miss Price, and the others encounter at the Island of Naboombu. He also voiced a couple of the dogs in the pound in Lady and the Tramp, and he provided some dog barks for 101 Dalmatians. He could also be seen in such Disney movies as Son of Flubber, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, Hot Lead and Cold Feet, and The Cat from Outer Space.
Dal's non-Disney film credits also include a supporting role in Clambake with Elvis Presley. He appeared on television as Cincinnatus in Daniel Boone with Fess Parker. He also has other voice credits, most notably as the voice of Gumby, Buzz Buzzard and others from the Woody Woodpecker cartoons, and Archie Andrews from the different Archie television shows.
Dal also has had a pretty impressive career with the Disney attractions. He was the narrator on the Mine Train thru Nature's Wonderland. He was the voice of Andrew Jackson in the original version of the Hall of Presidents. He was the voice of Zeke in the Country Bear Jamboree. And as mentioned before, he is the voice of Benjamin Franklin in the American Adventure. When Disneyland replaced Nature's Wonderland with Big Thunder Mountain, Dal was the voice of the prospector giving the safety warnings as the trains depart.
In addition, Dal did a great deal of work for Disneyland Records. I looked through our admittedly small collection and found a record of the story and songs from Mary Poppins. On that record, Dal was the voice of Bert, who narrated the story.
Recently, I had the opportunity to have dinner with Dal. He had been in town for a film festival, and he had a layover of a few days before traveling to his next appearance. Tim Hollis, co-author of an upcoming book on Disneyland Records, alerted me to Dal's extra time in town. Arrangements were made, and Dal was able to come over for dinner for the evening.
It was quite a fun evening. He talked about working with Walt on different projects, and about how Disney has changed since Walt's death. He talked about Gumby and about working with Walter Lantz on the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. He talked about working with Fess Parker. He sang songs, he told stories, he played CDs of more songs he had recorded. He sang for us a song he had co-written of the books of the Old Testament.
He talked about his early days in television. He had a local children's show in the Los Angeles area called Captain Jet, and his announcer was a young fellow named Johnny Carson. He told about Walt Disney asking him to come be a part of the Mickey Mouse Club, but he was bound by his Captain Jet contract and had to pass up the opportunity. Fortunately, he was still able to work with Disney over the years.
He talked about working with the Sherman brothers, singing the songs from Mary Poppins so that they could hear them as they were writing them. He talked about working with Elvis on Clambake, and how they would trade dog barks in between takes on the set. He told of the excitement of traveling by train, which he had just done, and about all the interesting people you meet while on the train. He recounted the story of a Scottish woman who worked on the train while he was coming to the film festival, and he would perfectly match her accent. While we were entertaining him as our guest, he kept us greatly entertained with all his stories, voices, and songs.
Dallas turns 84 this month, but you almost wouldn't know it. His voice sounds much younger than that, and he can still do so many different voices. At times he almost runs instead of walking. After leaving our area, his travels included Walt Disney World for a seminar on Disney voices held by the Disney Institute. He was looking forward to seeing the American Adventure for the first time. Even though his voice is a major part of the attraction, he had never seen the finished show.
Dal impressed me as being a very kind man. He wanted to do things for people. He wanted to in some way pay back the people that helped him, such as the staff at the hotel or the employees on the train. He had a unique personality that made him even more enjoyable than his voices and stories.
He has a remarkable voice, able to change into so many different characters, dialects, and accents. A true talent that he has used successfully over the years.
And most every time he talked, I couldn't help hearing in my head the same voice saying, "This here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!"
- Story and Photos by Steve Burns
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