In honor of Mickey Mouse’s birthday (November 18, 1928), this post will be about the original Mickey Mouse Club Television Show. The show was created by Walt Disney and produced by the Walt Disney Company and was shown on the ABC television network from October 3, 1955 to September 25, 1959. But first let’s start with some background information …
Before the television show, Mickey Mouse made his official debut in the short film, “Steamboat Willie (1928) which was one of the first sound cartoons. Mickey went on to appear in over 130 films such as “The Band Concert” (1935) and Fantasia (1940). Shortly after Mickey’s first appearance in films, the Mickey Mouse Fan Club was started and this lead to the first official gathering of fans on January 4, 1930 at the Fox Dome Theater in Ocean Park, California. Soon, Mickey Mouse Fan Club meetings were being held throughout the 1930s in theaters across the country. On April 15, 1930 the Club’s first newsletter, the “Official Bulletin of the Mickey Mouse Club” was published and by 1932 the Club had approximately one million members.
Then, in the 1950s, Walt Disney started the “Disneyland” television show as a way to generate interest, promote and finance his new theme park that was being built in Anaheim, California; it would open on July 17, 1955. Over the following years new shows were created and produced by the Walt Disney Company, such as “Zorro” and the “Davy Crockett Show” (I know you baby boomers will remember the catchy Davy Crockett theme song and might have even had your very own “coon-skin” hat!!)
So, in the mid-1950s, Disney was looking to produce another television series and he came up with the idea of the Mickey Mouse Club that would be specifically aimed at a young audience to be shown during the afternoon. The show would feature musical and dance segments, short serials such as “The Adventures of Spin and Marty”, newsreel segments and also short animation cartoons featuring Mickey Mouse and the other Disney characters. Picked to host the show as the “Head Mouseketeer” was Jimmie Dodd, a Walt Disney Studios songwriter, and the “Big Mooseketeer” Roy Williams, who was a staff artist at the Walt Disney Studios. Alvy Moore, a comedy actor with stage and film experience, was also used for hosting and narrating newsreel segments and short serials shown within the show.
The Mickey Mouse Club television show cast also featured a group of talented children which became known as the “Mouseketeers”. Disney representatives spent a lot of time traveling the country attending local school plays and musical and dance productions to select the children for the show. It was important to Walt that the children chosen would be “ordinary” children with no previous professional experience but of course this idea was quickly changed and the twenty-eight children selected for the first season almost all had prior professional experience. This made perfect sense since the rehearsal and production time required to film a weekly television show would be very fast paced and they need children that were quick learners and that acted responsibly while on the set.
Each hour-long show would begin with the opening theme song, the “Mickey Mouse March”, which was written by Jimmie Dodd, who also wrote many of the other songs used in the show. The song was shown with an animated section showing Mickey Mouse and the other Disney characters including an angry Donald Duck that is not happy with his friend, Mickey, getting all the attention!! After the theme song opening was the Roll Call scene which introduced each of the Mouseketeers wearing the iconic Mickey Mouse ears hats and dressed in matching shirts with their names printed on the chest, boys would wear pants and girls would wear pleated skirts. The most famous nine “Mouseketeers” were: Sharon Baird, Bobby Burgess, Lonnie Burr, Tommy Cole, Annette Funicello, Darlene Gillespie, Cubby O’Brian, Karen Pendleton and Doreen Tracey.
Each day of the week had a different theme: Monday was Fun with Music Day, Tuesday was Guest Star Day, Wednesday was Anything Can Happen Day, Thursday was Circus Day and Friday was Talent Round-up Day. The show would be filled with a variety of musical and dance segments, short serials such as “Spin and Marty”, newsreel segments and also short animation cartoons featuring Mickey Mouse and the other Disney characters. To end the show, the “Mouseketeers” would gather together and led by Jimmie Dodd, the “Head Mouseketeer”, they would sing the theme song in a much slower, somewhat melancholy version.
Even though the show remained popular for over three seasons with the television audience, ABC decided to cancel the show after the fourth season with Disney and ABC unable to negotiate a renewal. ABC subsequently prohibited Disney from taking the Mickey Mouse Club show to another network; Disney filed a lawsuit and won a financial settlement but did agree that the previous episodes of the Mickey Mouse Club show would not be aired on another network. (Ironically, the successful Disney Company went on to buy the ABC network in 1996)
The Original Mickey Mouse Club Television Show Trivia
- Bill Walsh and Chuck Keehne helped to create the Mickey Mouse Club television show after Walt Disney became too busy with his work at both the Disney Studios and the Disneyland theme park.
- Jimmie Dodd, the “Head Mouseketeer”, had previously enjoyed a brief movie career; he appeared in a small role in the 1948 MGM film “Easter Parade”, before becoming a songwriter and eventually the host on the Mickey Mouse Club television show. Dodd composed and sang many of the songs on the show that he sometimes played on his unusual Mickey-shaped guitar.
- Roy Williams, the “Big Mooseketeer”, was a staff artist at the Disney Studios when he was personally picked by Walt Disney to be on the Mickey Mouse Club television show. Williams is credited for coming up with the original concept for the iconic Mickey Mouse ears hat worn by the cast on the show.
- California Labor Laws regarding children in the entertainment industry were strict about limiting only four hours of work, three hours of school work with a one hour break for lunch daily Monday thru Friday, the children also worked on Saturday with less restrictions. To maintain these standards for the first season, the cast was divided into three teams; Red, White and Blue. When one team would be rehearsing, another would be filming and the other would be in school.
- The Red Team was considered the core unit of twelve “Mouseketeers” that would be seen most frequently on the show; they appeared daily in the opening “Roll Call” scene and in the ending “Alma Mater” scene that closed each show. The White and Blue Teams had six “Mouseketeers” each and they were used less frequently for musical numbers and skits. Cleverly, the Disney Studio also used it as a way of controlling the children or the overbearing stage parents because if they were not performing adequately or were causing problems they would be moved to a lower priority team. Needless to say, during the first season several of the children left or contracts were not renewed.
- Perhaps the most famous “Mouseketeer” was Annette Funicello, she was personally selected by Walt Disney to be on the Mickey Mouse Club television show. Walt later guided her career at the Disney Studios with roles in movies such as, “The Shaggy Dog” (1959) and “Babes in Toyland” (1961). Annette went onto to be a recording artist and also starred in the “Beach Movie” series of films with Frankie Avalon. Sadly, in 1992 Annette announced that she had Multiple Sclerosis; she died of complications from the disease in 2013.
- Bobby Burgess was another popular “Mouseketeer” who later went onto be a regular on “The Lawrence Welk Show” from 1961 to 1982. While appearing on the show Bobby meet Kristin Floren, his future wife and the daughter of the famous Myron Floren who was the famous accordionist on the Welk show. The couple had fur children and Bobby is still active in the entertainment industry and also owns a dance studio.
- Another “Mouseketeer”, Cheryl Holdridge, went onto to act in the “Leave it to Beaver” television series as Julie Foster, the girlfriend of Wally Cleaver. She also made guest appearances on other shows, such as “My Three Sons”, “Bewitched” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. In 1964, Cheryl got married and left her acting career behind, she did some documentary work in the mid-2000s and she died in 2009 from lung cancer.
- The two youngest “Mouseketeers” were Cubby O’Brien and Karen Pendleton; the pair were sometimes called the “Meeseketeers”. Cubby was known as a great drummer and played several times on the Mickey Mouse Club show. After the show ended, he worked as a drummer on “The Lawrence Welk Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show” and later with the Carpenters pop duo. Karen left show business after the Mickey Mouse Club ended to concentrate on school; she later earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. In 1983, Karen was involved in a serious car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
- Throughout the years following the end of the Mickey Mouse Club, several of the “Mouseketeers” would get together to do promotional work for the Disney Company. In 2005, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Disneyland theme park and also the Mickey Mouse Club television show, a group of “Mouseketeers” performed at the celebration. Some of those in attendance were Sharon Baird, Bobby Burgess, Tommy Cole, Don Grady and Cheryl Holdridge.