When people think of Bambi, they usually picture the small fawn that slid around on the ice; they rarely mention the brave buck he grew up to be. In reality, the opposite is true: the child actor who voiced Bambi grew up to be a decorated Marine who kept his childhood performance a secret.
Donnie Dunagan was a child actor who had a few movie credits to his name before getting the role of Young Bambi in 1942. While voicing Disney’s animated deer was a huge role for Dunagan, he didn’t find more film work after that and eventually enlisted in the armed forces at age 18.
Dunagan received 13 promotions over his 25 years of service, ultimately being promoted to Major, serving in Vietnam and receiving a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. As his military accomplishments stacked up, he continued to keep his acting credit as a beloved childhood character a secret.
Dunagan didn’t just provide the voice of the young deer; his facial expressions were the inspiration for Bambi’s own reactions. The Disney illustrators would ask Dunagan to make a face as though he were sad, happy, or bewildered, and then draw the animation to match.