duck tales

Greetings from Afar

November, 2010


If you have ever seen the Black and White version of “A Tale of Two Cities”
you are familiar with the actor who played “Sidney Carton”, the main
character. His name was Ronald Coleman. In any case, Coleman had one of the
most beautiful, resonant voices ever to grace stage or screen. If you have
ever seen this motion picture, you know what I mean. His final lines are as
unforgettable, now, as they were when he spoke them, over seventy years ago.

Ronald Charles Colman was born at Richmond, Surrey, England on February 9,
1891. Height 5 feet 11 inches; dark brown hair and eyes; weight 158 pounds.
He was, to put it mildly, one of the great stars of the Golden Age of motion
pictures. He was raised in Ealing, the son of a successful silk merchant,
and attended boarding school in Sussex, where he first discovered amateur
theatre. He intended to attend Cambridge and become an engineer, but his
father’s death cost him the financial support necessary. He joined the London
Scottish Regionals and at the outbreak of World War I was sent to France.
Seriously wounded at the battle of Messines, he was invalided out of service
scarcely two months after shipping out for France.

Upon his recovery, tried to enter the consular service, but a chance
encounter got him a small role in a London play. He dropped other plans and
concentrated on the theatre and was rewarded with a succession of
increasingly prominent parts. His early success in the film led to a
contract with Samuel Goldwin and career as a Hollywood leading man was
underway. He became a vastly popular star of silent films, in romances as
well as adventure films. With the coming of sound, his extraordinarily
beautiful speaking voice made him even more important to the film industry.

Coleman was a longtime friend of Walt Disney. In the mid-fifties, he
developed Parkinson’s Disease. It eventually killed him. For the last
several years of his life he was unable to work, due to the “palsy” that
accompanies Parkinson’s Disease. He had exhausted all the money he had in
treatment, and was literally dying broke, with no way to pay his medical
bills. Disney offered to pay all of it as a “loan”, but Coleman refused the
charity, knowing that he was dying, and could never repay it.

Disney then made a counter offer. He offered him a job. The man still had
his beautiful, resonant voice…

Disney made a cartoon especially for him. You may have seen it. It’s a
Donald Duck cartoon, in which Donald, finds a box of pills on the street,
which change his usual incomprehensible voice in to a beautiful, resonant
baritone… It’s the voice of Ronald Coleman…

That was his last job…

Coleman made just enough, and calculatedly so, to pay off the staggering
medical bills that he had accumulated, and to pay for his funeral.

Ronald Colman will live in the history of stage and screen. His face will
remain an icon to those who study and appreciate classic film. But… to
countless and endless generations of children he will be the faceless but
unforgettable voice…albeit a temporary one… of a beloved duck…

(c) 2010 by Dr. J. Lee Choron: All rights reserved unless specified by the
author in writing.