Last night I was watching an old Rifleman episode and it was an odd one. One of Lucas McCain’s neighbors turns out to be Abraham Lincoln! Well, not the real Abraham Lincoln, but rather a man who incurred psychic trauma during his Civil War service and now he believes he is Abraham Lincoln. However, the man, portrayed by the late actor Royal Dano, looks and acts just like Abraham Lincoln. This show was broadcast in 1961 when the Civil War centennial was big news, and this was a clever way of getting Lincoln on the Rifleman show, a series set in the 1880’s, without having to invoke time travel! The episode was moving and as I listened I thought the actor portraying Lincoln sounded familiar. Then it struck me: the Disney Animatronics Lincoln!
Dano provided the voice of Lincoln.in the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln show which Disney premiered at the World’s Fair in 1964. Disney chose Dano because he believed his voice was most like what Disney imagined Lincoln sounded like. In this Disney was probably incorrect. Most contemporaries described Lincoln as having a high pitched voice. However, Disney was a showman and not an historian, and I think Disney hit upon a voice that did fit the popular imagination of what Lincoln sounded like, said imagination having been formed by deep voiced portrayals of Lincoln on film by actors such as Walter Huston, Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey. The Animatronics Lincoln now has a new voice actor as Lincoln, but to generations that came of age in the final decades of the last century and visited Disney World, Dano’s voice will be that of Lincoln’s.