10 Famous (or Notorious) Ducks

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My children don't watch nearly as much TV as I did at their age. I asked my daughter if she knew any famous ducks. She could only think of The Ugly Duckling! But our pop culture landscape bears the tracks of an entire flock of famous ducks.

Count Duckula

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Count Duckula began as a villainous character on the British TV show Danger Mouse. He was spun off into his own show in 1988 and imported to the US (as well as many other countries), where he was sometimes mistaken for a version of Daffy Duck. Count Duckula was a vegetarian vampire duck who could teleport to any part of the world. The show ran until 1993.

You Bet Your Life Duck

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You Bet Your Life was a game show hosted by Groucho Marx that aired on NBC from 1950 to 1960. If the contestant said the secret word (which the TV audience knew), a duck would fall from above and the contestant won $100. Why a duck? It was a reminder of the famous line from the 1929 Marx Brothers movie The Cocoanuts.

Groucho: And here is the viaduct leading over to the mainland.
Chico: Why a duck? Why a no chicken?

The Ugly Duckling

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The title character of The Ugly Duckling wasn't even a duck! The story was first published by Hans Christian Anderson in 1843, about a baby bird who is ostracized because he doesn't look nice like the other ducklings in his family. When he matures, he finds that he is really a beautiful swan. See the Disney cartoon from 1939 on video. The 1931 version inexplicably has the swan hatched from the nest of a chicken.

AFLAC Duck

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The AFLAC duck, featuring the voice of Gilbert Gottfried, has been hinting for us to buy a certain brand of insurance since 1999. He inspired a generation of toddlers to say "AFLAC" instead of "quack" when asked what a duck sounds like. AFLAC has a video gallery of the ads.

Ping

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The Story About Ping is a children's book written by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese in 1933 about a duck who lives on a boat on the Yangtze River in China. He falls behind, misses the boat, and has to find his own way home. It's a charming story for preschoolers and early readers.

Rubber Duckie

The Sesame Street Muppet Ernie loves his Rubber Duckie. The song was sung by Jim Henson in 1970, and reached number 16 on Billboard's pop music chart in September of that year.

Howard the Duck

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The 1986 George Lucas film Howard the Duck was such a spectacular flop that the title became a metaphor for "awful movie". The jokes weren't funny and the duck character looked only real enough to make his romantic interest in Lea Thompson overly creepy.

Ferdinand

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Ferdinand was the duck in the 1995 movie Babe. He spent his time desperately scheming to make himself so useful that the farm family would never think of eating him. He crowed like a rooster every morning, until Mrs. Hoggett acquired an alarm clock.

Donald Duck

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The Disney character Donald Duck made his debut in The Wise Little Hen in 1934. His distinctive voice, which sounds thoroughly ducky but barely intelligible, made him famous. Donald is best known for losing his temper, allowing him to show off the voice without saying much of anything. He looks dapper in his sailor suit, but never wears pants, except when swimming. Donald has girlfriend (Daisy), three nephews (Hewey, Dewey, and Lewey), a rich uncle (Scrooge McDuck), and various other Disney relatives.

Daffy Duck

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The Warner Brothers character Daffy Duck is possibly the most popular duck of all. He first appeared in 1937 in the cartoon Porky's Duck Hunt. The classic Daffy was voiced by Mel Blanc, but interpreted as slightly different by each animator who drew him. He can be manic or neurotic, smart or stupid, but his understandable responses to a world that seems to be lined up against him makes him easy for audiences to relate to. See Daffy in action in the classic Chuck Jones cartoon Duck Amuck.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I could've added Baby Huey, Disco Duck, and quite a few others. Who's your favorite duck?

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April 15, 2008 - 1:23am
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