Walt apparently cast the voice of the Great Prince of the Forest himself. He wanted someone whose voice delivered authority and solemnity, especially since he’s not exactly a sympathetic character. I found a quote from him on the subject. “I would like the Old Stag to say what he has to say in a direct way, and in such a voice that Bambi is unable to answer him. What he says will be sort of final. That can be put over through the voice.” Who else to turn to for that sort of voice than someone who had been delivering solemn pronouncements about all kinds of things for years?
I’ve never made a secret of the fact that the Goofy “How To” shorts are some of my favourite cartoons of any studio. Not just Disney but in general. Fred Shields isn’t the narrator we usually think of there, but he did do a couple of them. He spent many years in radio, about which I cannot find many details (as I’ve said before, it’s hard to find information about people’s radio careers), though he seems to have been a producer on the radio show of Tarzan as well as appearing on it as an actor. I assume that’s why he was then chosen for his work at Disney.
I suspect his IMDb page is incomplete. This is often the case with roles like his. When you’re credited as “Narrator” in twelve shorts—including Saludos Amigos, which IMDb lists as a short—and a movie, it does not seem improbable that they’ve left some things out. As we’ve discussed, it’s hard to get an accurate count of how many PBS specials even people like Linda Hunt have narrated, much less someone who only narrates.
It can be a problem to write about people like this, of course, but I also firmly believe that it makes them all the more important to write about. It’s worth remembering that even enormous conglomerates like Disney—and for most of his time there, the company wasn’t in its best shape ever—involve lots of people who are relatively lesser lights. The media we grew up on involves plenty of people like Shields; he isn’t even the only narrator in Saludos Amigos or The Three Caballeros, come to that.
Honestly? The biggest struggle when it comes to writing about people like this is having enough to say to fill five paragraphs. What is there to say when I can find basically no information about someone? He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. His biography on IMDb is short; his information on Find a Grave is identical to his IMDb biography. We believe we have access to all the information ever at the tips of our fingers, but sometimes, it’s brought home to me as I write that it isn’t true.