Beginning his career
Nash made a name for himself in the late 1920s as an impressionist for KHJ, a radio staion in Los Angeles, on their show, The Merrymakers. He later was employed by the Adohr Milk Company for publicity purposes. Dubbed "Whistling Clarence, the Adohr Bird Man", Nash rode the streets with a team of miniature horse and gave treats to the children. In 1932, Nash happened by the Disney Studio with his team of horses, and decided to leave a copy of his Adohr publicity sheet with the receptionist. As it turns out, his name was recognized from a reprise appearance on The Merrymakers a few days previous, and Walt Disney himself had been impressed by Nash's vocal skills. He was asked to make an informal audition.
Nash went through several of his voices, and Walt Disney happened by when Nash gave his impersonation of a family of ducks. Disney declared Nash perfect for the role of a talking duck in their upcoming animated short, The Wise Little Hen. The duck, of course, was Donald Duck, who Nash went on to voice for almost 50 years, in over 120 shorts and films. The last film to feature Nash's famous voice was 1983's Mickey's Christmas Carol, although he continued to provide Donald's voice for commercials, promos and other miscellaneous material until his death.
Donald Duck went on to become one of the most famous cartoon characters in the world, and a great part of this was due to Nash's distinctive voice. It may well be one of the most recognizable character voices in history. The voice is distinctive both for its ducklike quality and the fact that it is often very difficult for anybody to understand, especially when Donald flew into a rage (which happened fairly often). To keep Donald's voice consistent throughout the world, Nash voiced Donald's voice in all foreign languages the Disney shorts were translated to (with the aid of the phonetic alphabet), meaning Donald retained his same level of incoherency all across the globe. Mad magazine, in its 1950s comic-strip style satire of Disney characters, featured a "translation" of "Darnold" Duck's "quacky, incomprehensible" voice.
In addition to Donald's voice, Nash also voiced Daisy Duck (in her earliest appearances, when she was little more than a female version of Donald), as well as Donald's nephews Huey, Dewie and Luey. He provided the voice for PJ in the cartoon 'Bellboy Donald' and for a bullfrog in Bambi. Nash also provided the meows of Figaro the kitten in a handful of shorts. He did some dog sounds in One Hundred and One Dalmations and vocal sounds for the Bear in The Fox and The Hound.
Several Tom and Jerry cartoons directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera featured a third main character, a duckling named Quacker; Hanna and Barbera would adapt Little Quacker into Yakky Doodle for television. As with most Hanna-Barbera productions, these characters used celebrity impersonations, in these cases an impersonation of Clarence Nash's Donald Duck voice. In these cases, Red Coffee and Jimmy Weldon provided the respective voices, although because both were so similar to Nash's voice they are often mistakenly attributed to Nash.
When Disney shut down their shorts department in 1962, Nash continued to voice Donald in various projects over the next two decades, notably performing the song "Macho Duck" on the Mickey Mouse Disco album in the 1970s. (Contrary to popular belief, however, Nash did not perform the duck voice for Rick Dees' "Disco Duck")
Nash's performance as Donald in Mickey's Christmas Carol made Donald the only character in the film to be voiced by his original actor.
In the late 1970s, Nash was known for often taking walks in the neighborhood around Fremont Elementary School in Glendale, California, entertaining children with his Donald Duck voice.
Nash appeared as himself in the 1941 movie The Reluctant Dragon, which shows how Disney movies are produced, and was a contestant on a 1954 episode of What's My Line. Nash also appeared as himself in a 1956 episode of Disneyland named A Day in the Life of Donald Duck, in which he interacts with an animated Donald, who blames him for his speech problems: the two end up arguing mainly due to Donald's short temper. He was also a guest on a 1976 episode of The Mike Douglas Show. The 1984 special Donald Duck's 50th Birthday showed several clips from Disney movies and Disneyland episodes, including some of the scenes with Nash and Donald from A Day in the Life of Donald Duck.
Clarence Nash died in 1985 of leukemia at the age of 80 and was interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, Los Angeles, California. The tombstone of the grave he now shares with his wife Margaret Nash (who died in 1993) depicts a carving of Donald and Daisy Duck holding hands.
After Nash's death, Donald's voice has been taken up by Disney animator Tony Anselmo, who was trained under Nash personally. Anselmo is also among the many voiceover artists to have also voiced Huey, Dewey and Louie over the years. Later characters whose voices owe considerable credit to Nash's duck voice have been voiced by actors such as Jimmy Weldon, Frank Welker, Luba Goy and Red Coffee. The most prominent of these is Weldon's Yakky Doodle for Hanna-Barbera.