The Original Mickey Mouse Club Television Show

MMC - show opening

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.

First Mickey Mouse Club meeting  4.0.4

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. 

Jimmie and Roy

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.

Mouseketters MMC Mouseketeers 1957

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.

MMC - Mouseketter intro

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. 

MMC 3  MMC 2

MMC - Thursday

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.

Mouseketeers with Walt

  • 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.

Jimmie Dodd

  • 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.

Annette 1a  Annette 2

  • 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.

Bobby 1

  • 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.

Cheryl Holdridge Leave it to Beaver

  • 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.

Karen and Cubby

  • 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.

Mouseketeers - Disneyland 50th

Mickey Mouse’s Birthday

Mickey Mouse with Walt Disney

In honor of Mickey Mouse’s birthday (November 18, 1928), in this post I will discuss the history of the most famous of the Disney characters.  At the time that Mickey Mouse was created, Walt Disney’s fledgling company was at a critical low point in its development.  Walt had been in New York trying to negotiate higher fees with Universal Picture the distributor of their animated short films and he ended up losing not only the contract but also the rights to the character of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  Walt was devastated about this business setback but Lillian, his always supportive wife, encouraged him to keep trying and not be discouraged.  So, on the long train ride back to California Walt started to sketch ideas for a new mouse character and Lillian suggested the name of Mickey Mouse.  Mickey went on star in a series of successful animated shorts and this would be a turning point for the newly formed Walt Disney Studios.  As a result the company would eventually be able to finance their first full-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.  Let me quote a famous line frequently used by the Disney Studios that sums it up perfectly, “… and it all started with a mouse”.

Mickey Mouse first drawing

The character of Mickey Mouse was first drawn by animator Ub Iwerks for a silent animated short film called “Plane Crazy” but the Disney Studios had failed to find a distributor.  Meanwhile the always optimistic Disney continued production on three additional animated short films featuring Mickey.  Ultimately, “Steamboat Willie” was the first of those four black and white animated short films to be released and premiered on November 18, 1928 (and for this reason the date is officially used for Mickey Mouse’s birthday).  Not only was it the debut of Mickey Mouse but it was also the first Disney animated film to use synchronized sound.  Eventually, Mickey went on to appear in hundreds of animated films; most notably the 1929 short film “The Barn Dance” which is the first time Mickey speaks, the 1935 short film “The Band Concert” where Mickey appears for the first time in color and the 1940 full length animated film where he appears as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Originally Walt Disney provided the high falsetto voice of Mickey Mouse until 1946, but later Walt returned as the voice of Mickey for the original “Mickey Mouse Club” television series which was shown on ABC from 1955 to 1959.

Steamboat Willie    The Band Concert

As mentioned previously, Ub Iwerks was the first animator to draw the character of Mickey and he designed the figure simply by using several circles so that it would be easy to animate which was very important given the fact that literally hundreds of drawings are required to make an animated film.  The most noticeable feature of the circular design was Mickey’s head and ears and this would prove to make the character instantly recognizable and eventually lead to the character’s trademark silhouette.

Later, with the approval of Walt, animator Fred Moore redesigned Mickey’s body and also changed his eyes from small black dots to small white eyes with black pupils and Mickey has generally been drawn the same way ever since then.  This new Mickey redesign first appeared in the 1939 “The Pointer” animated short film.  Also, Mickey’s hands originally were drawn with three fingers and a thumb but later in the 1929 “The Opry House” animated film Mickey was drawn wearing white gloves to provide contrast against his black body and this change in design was made permanent.  Typically Mickey always drawn wearing red shorts with two large buttons and large yellow shoes but sometimes, depending on the animated short or full length film theme, Mickey can also be drawn wearing a different costume, such as the sorcerer’s robe in the 1940 “Fantasia” animated film or the 1983 “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” where he wears Victorian-style clothing for the character of Bob Cratchit in an animated film adaption of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol”.

Mickey Mouse in Fantasia    Mickey in Christmas Carol

After the release of Fantasia, Mickey appeared in fewer Disney studio films and his popularity started to decline with the emergence of other Disney characters.  Then, in 1955 Mickey was featured in the Disney television series, “The Mickey Mouse Club”, and Walt took the opportunity to re-release several of the Mickey Mouse animated shorts which allowed an entirely new generation of kids fell in love with the mouse!!  (The idea of re-releasing “old” Disney films every decade has proven to be a very lucrative marketing tool for the Disney Studios because the initial cost was usually covered by the initial release and anything after that is usually pure profit.  Another example of this idea was the re-release of Disney films on VHS and then later DVD)

Mickey Mouse Club - Mouseketeers    Mickey Mouse Club

Throughout the following years Mickey also appeared in several new Disney animated films, the 1983 “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” and the 1990 “The Prince and the Pauper”.  One notable Mickey appearance was in the 1988 “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” directed by Robert Zemeckis and this Disney/Amblin film uniquely featured animated characters appearing with live-action characters.  (This concept of mixed media was not new to Disney and in the 1920s Laugh-O-Grams had made a series of “Alice” animated cartoons featuring a live-action Alice having adventures in an animated world)  What makes “Roger Rabbit” interesting is that, in additional to numerous animated Disney characters, the film also includes several Warner Bros. animated characters.  Warner Bros. had long been a direct competitor in animated films to the Disney Studios and an agreement was reached that in the scene in which Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny appear together that each of them would have the same amount of screen time including the exact number of frames used for each character in the final cut.

Mickey in Roger Rabbit

After the loss of the Oswald character in the late 1920s, Walt learned any important business lesson and that was to keep control of the rights of his animated characters.  This control included the marketing and merchandising of all the Disney characters starting with Mickey Mouse in 1928.  After the success of “Steamboat Willie”, Mickey became very popular and Walt wanted to take advantage of the situation by developing a line of Mickey merchandise.  In 1933 the first Mickey Mouse watch was manufactured by the Ingersoll Watch Company and sold for $3.75.  The watch featured an image of Mickey with his hands used to mark the hour and minutes.  Throughout the years hundreds of different kinds of merchandise items were also produced and sold with the image of Mickey Mouse, such as plush toys, figurines, games and other toys.  (The Disney marketing of their animated character images on a large variety of merchandise items proved to be very lucrative and they contracted several outside manufactures and companies to distribute these items, such as the Milton Bradley and Fisher-Price companies.  Later a separate division within the company was eventually created specifically for merchandise sales that were exclusively sold in the Disney theme parks, then Disney retail stores and their website,  Please click on the link to see my Disney Memorabilia Collection.

Mickey Mouse watch

Mickey Mouse also appeared in other forms of Disney-related print media.  After the appearance of Mickey in the popular animated shorts of the late 1920s and 1930s, Walt entered into an agreement with the King Features Syndicate and a comic strip featuring Mickey and friends was created and first one appeared on January 13, 1930.   So, throughout the following years the character of Mickey Mouse would be featured in other comic strips, later several comic book series and children books.

first Mickey Mouse comic strip

After Walt built Disneyland in 1955, Mickey Mouse became the mascot for all the Disney theme parks.  His image appears in advertisement for the parks and, as previously mentioned, all types of Mickey merchandise is sold within the parks.  Of course, one of the most exciting things for children (adults, too!) when visiting one the parks is seeing Mickey Mouse and long lines of guests form to have their photos taken with him.  (Travel Note: In Disneyland park guests can step into Mickey’s House in ToonTown which opened in 1993.  Guests will feel like they stepped into one of Disney’s animated cartoons as they walk through the house to meet Mickey who sometimes appears as Steamboat Willie or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice)

Mickey Mouse at Disneyland 1 Mickey Mouse at Disneyland 3    Mickey Mouse at Disneyland 2

(Special Note: “Hidden Mickeys” can be found throughout the Disney theme parks.  They are generally the combination of the three circles representing the head and ears of Mickey Mouse.  On a personal note, looking for the “Hidden Mickeys” in Disneyland is one of our favorite things to do when we visit the park and it can be a lot of fun!  There are entire websites and books dedicated to identifying these “Hidden Mickeys”, so check it out and next time you are in Disneyland or one of the other Disney theme parks and you can make a game of finding them!)

Over the years, Mickey Mouse has received ten Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Short film and has won only one for the 1941 “Lend a Paw”.  In 1932 Walt Disney received an honorary Academy Award for his creation of Mickey Mouse and its contribution to the Hollywood movie industry.  In 1978, to honor Mickey Mouse’s 50th birthday, he received a star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame making him the first cartoon character to receive this distinctive honor.  Mickey’s star is located near the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Blvd which is now owned by the Disney Company.  Walt Disney’s star is also located nearby.   In 2005 Mickey was the Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade and once again he was the first cartoon character to receive the honor and only the second fictional character after Kermit the Frog in 1996.  Walt Disney had previously been Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade in 1966.

Mickey Mouse's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame    116th Tournament Of Roses Parade

Special Blog Note:  Finally, as many of readers of this blog know from previous posts, I grew up in Southern California.  My family loved Disney and we made annual visits to Disneyland and always went to the movie theaters to see the latest Disney animated films.  Throughout the years I became fascinated by Walt Disney who was the creative genius behind those wonderful animated films, television programs and Disneyland.  One of my favorite books about Walt is the Bob Thomas book, “Walt Disney: An American Original”.  The book covers the life of Walt from his birth in Chicago, IL to his early childhood in Marceline, MO and then follows him to Kansas City as he starts the Laugh-O-Gram Company and then finally to California as he created the Walt Disney Company and later built Disneyland.  (I highly recommend the book!)   Recently, after we had moved to the Midwest, I finally got a chance to visit Walt’s boyhood home in Marceline, MO and later on a road trip back to California we took a side trip to see the Walt Disney Family Museum located in the historic Presidio in San Francisco, CA.  (For more information and travel reports about those two destinations, please click on the links.  Also, for more detailed information about the Disneyland Park in Anaheim CA, please check out the five part series on this blog by clicking on the link)