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'Bambi' Stars Meet For The First Time After 69 Years
March 4, 2011 - Sixty-nine years after Walt Disney originally released the animated classic, Bambi , the voices of Bambi and Thumper met for the first time. The View hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Sherri Shepherd hosted the reunion between the Bambi voices on their ABC daytime show. The character of the fawn, “Bambi”, was voiced by Donnie Dunagan and the voice of rabbit, "Thumper", by Peter Behn.
Both Dunagan and Behn were eight-years-old when Bambi was released in 1942. Dunagan told The View co-hosts he was a child actor and Bambi was his last film role. Disney was looking for a child model for whom they could base the face of Bambi. Dunagan was the lucky boy chosen for the task. His excited mother regularly took him to his acting and modeling appointments for the Disney artists, whom he called “The Drawing Men.”
Dunagan described the moment of when Bambi’s mother is killed in the film to the ladies of The View . He just could not get the facial expression the film-makers desired for Bambi. Dunagan was to cry out, “Mother! Mother!” in the iconic scene. After trial and error, one of the men in the sound booth fibbed and told the boy that his mother was in trouble somewhere in the studio, and that they were going to put Dunagan on the speaker so he could call for her. A frantic Dunagan cried out for his mother. It worked. The man later consoled Dunagan and assured him his mother was alright. Film magic was created in a scene that still brings tears to an audience’s eyes nearly seventy years later.
There was another moment in the movie Dunagan gave insight on. He described a scene in Bambi in which Bambi is kissed (licked) and he scrunches up his nose because he doesn’t like it. Because Dunagan could not deliver the facial expression the artists desired, they asked him to remember a time recently when something bad had happened to him. Dunagan recalled his mother had given him castrol oil two weeks prior. So, the young Dunagan said, “Castrol oil,” and made a disgusted face. The artists said, “Hold it!” and made the boy keep his face scrunched up so they could draw it for Bambi.
Dunagan had a rough childhood and came from a broken home, resulting in his impoverished family kicking him out of their home. He was sent to an orphanage. He soon ran away from the orphanage, and by the age of 12, he was no longer filming movies. At 13, Dunagan was living in a boarding house. He stayed there until he enlisted in the United States Marines. He was in the military for another twenty-five years, eventually retiring as a Major. Dunagan currently tutors children and delivers meals for schools in need.
Behn, who had learned how to read at the age of three, has never acted in a film since Bambi . He stated he “grew up as an ordinary kid,” earning no special attention from family and friends for his role as Thumper. He attended Yale and served for two years in the United States Army. He currently is retired and lives in Utah.
Neither Dunagan nor Behn had told their wife they had been in the iconic Bambi until after they had been married. They agreed that their grandchildren get a kick out of them having been in the film. Plans for a future reunion were not mentioned.
Bambi is available on both Blu-ray and DVD.