Memphis, home of stars. Graceland? Tick. Peabody Hotel? Move over with your blue suede shoes, King - the web feet are hitting the red carpet. The Peabody Ducks, waddling stars of Memphis, attract hundreds of visitors every day for the famed Peabody Duck March. Their esteemed Duckmaster Jason Sensat takes time out from his quacky schedule to talk fame and feathers.
Your predecessor was a former circus animal trainer – did you need special training to prepare for the Duckmaster role?
Being the 4th Duckmaster that the hotel has had I never got the opportunity to work with Mr. Pembroke. All of my "duck training" came OTJ, which always makes for a fun working experience.
How do you go about training ducks for the Peabody Duck March? How long does it take?
Ducks are such creatures of habit that it is just a matter of getting them into a little bit of a routine, then they are pretty much good-to-go. They only require a week of learning to get from Point A to Point B, then they are ready for the Big Time.
What qualities does a duck need to be a Peabody Duck? Do some ducks not make the grade?
They must have great people skills and know how to relate to non-waddlers (as they refer to us). All of the ducks that come to us go through a strict process of interviews and testing to make sure that they are ready to jump right in to the spotlight.
The ducks work in the hotel for three months only. In that time, do you develop favourites? Are you sorry to see them retire to the farm?
Favourites? That is kind of like asking if you have a favourite child…Of course you do, but you can’t say which one or you cause problems in the rest of the group. Seriously, they do have individual personalities that they each bring to the job. And as far as retiring, I am glad to see them go, simply for the reason that they get to go be wild ducks, instead of hotel employees.
Several celebrities have enjoyed the privilege of being Honorary Duckmaster – has anyone taken to it like a duck to water, or has anyone fowled it up?
It is funny to see how awestruck the celebrities get over the ducks. So the celebs are usually very careful to do all the right things and make sure the ducks aren’t disappointed in their performance as Honorary Duckmasters.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Royal Duck Palace on the hotel's rooftop (where the ducks live when off-duty)?
The Duck Palace is exactly what you would expect for a group of in-house celebrities; they have a spectacular view of Memphis overlooking the Mississippi River, they have a private swimming pool, ceiling fans to keep them cool and their own miniature version of the Peabody Hotel that they can settle in to get away for a moment of peace and solitude away from all of the paparazzi.
The ducks have appeared on TV shows – including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Sesame Street and The Oprah Winfrey Show – and in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Can we look forward to further high-profile media appearances?
The ducks have always been media darlings. In the 1990s they were even a question on Jeopardy. And just this year, they were on John & Kate Plus 8, Little People Big World, and Gene Simmons Family Jewels.
The Peabody Ducks are a major tourist attraction in Memphis, what do you think is their main appeal?
People, no matter how young or how old, love TRADITION. The ducks have been a mainstay at the hotel since 1933 and parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are always bringing the next generation in to see a part of their childhood memories; which in turn creates new childhood memories for this generation and many to come.
The ducks' popularity must lead to security risks – has anyone tried to ducknap at the Peabody?
We train the ducks how to avoid such situations. They have a built in alarm system… Have you ever heard an irate duck QUACK? They can be very loud whenever anybody gets too close and their main defence is to simply swim away (and, man, are they fast when they want to be).
From Training Manager at the Peabody to the quite public role of Duckmaster – how did you find the move into the public sphere, ie the media appearances, interview and autograph requests?
It has been a lot of fun and I am proud to be a representative of such a great hotel. Besides, my wife helps me keep a level head when it comes to the fame and recognition.
What are the perks and drawbacks of the Duckmaster role?
The main perk is that I love to see people happy and my job puts a lot of smiles on a lot of faces. As far as any drawbacks, have you ever tried to eat lunch while every kid at the table behind you is staring at you and whispering, "Mommy, can we go get a picture with the Duck Guy?"
The Peabody restaurant Chez Phillippe has not had duck on the menu since 1981. What about yourself – do you eat duck? Or did you, prior to working at the Peabody? Do you get asked this question all the time?
My legal counsel has advised me to exercise my rights as guaranteed under the 5th Amendment. And, yes, I get asked that question all the time.
What advice would you give to wannabe Duckmasters (or people wanting to work with animals)?
They say that there is a steadfast rule in show business that says, “Never work with animals or children.” Reason being is that BOTH are unpredictable. If you love the same thing day in and day out, this type of work may not be for you. But if you love variety and meeting new people along with the unpredictability of wild animals, have fun with it.
Outside of the Peabody Hotel, what's your favourite attraction in Memphis?
The Memphis Zoo is a favourite attraction. It is already a great place to visit, and it keeps expanding and adding on new and exciting exhibits.
Is there anything else you think travelers should absolutely see or do while they're in Memphis?
Whenever people think of Memphis, they think about Elvis Presley. Whether you are a fan of his or just have a passing interest, seeing the home of The King is well worth it. He was a bit before my time, but going through there and getting to see the vast body of his work and the numerous awards and accolades he received is awe-inspiring.
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