If you’re a Boomer, you likely remember watching a certain black and white television show as a kid that came on after school, right after American Bandstand – The Mickey Mouse Club Show. Since its debut in October 1955 on ABC, the Mickey Mouse Club Show (MMCS) became one of the all-time most popular, highly rated, television shows of all time.
The show was watched by a wide range of kids’ ages – 3 through 14 and consisted of a mix of kids performing in a talent show and doing fun and entertaining kid-themed things. Each day of the week had a specific theme to them like Music, Circus, Anything Can Happen, Guest Star and Talent Roundup.
Kids loved the show because it featured kids that seemed just like them – ordinary kids. That’s the way the show’s designer, Walt Disney, wanted it. It also featured kids of many different ethnic backgrounds – there were Italians, Jews, Asians, and Hispanics, something that was rare in those days of television casting. In looking for kids to become Mouseketeers, Walt Disney sent his talent agents to local school grounds just to watch kids at recess running around, having fun, being themselves. That’s what Walt Disney wanted to capture – the spirit of the ordinary kid. Of course, that ordinary kid could then, Mr. Disney felt, be groomed to develop a few special skills that were taught them by the Walt Disney studio.
The problem arose in scouting for these ordinary kids when the show’s producers only had a few short months to train them all to do something – dance, sing, play a musical instrument, etc. – in only a few months’ time. So, Walt’s “ordinary kid” plan went out the window in favor of kids who seemed like the kid next door yet also had, at least a little, professional talents under their belt. So, that first season of Mouse Club shows turned out to be more a variety show featuring some very talented kids rather than an ordinary kids “club” show which it more evolved into in later years.
The original Mousketeers included Cubby O’Brien who played the drums; Annette Funicello, Darlene Gillespie, Doreen Tracey, Karen Pendleton, all who both sang and danced. Then there was Karen Baird, the child prodigy tap dancer, actor, who had her legs insured by Lloyd’s of London for $50,000.
But the other boys danced and sang just as good as the girls, as well as were also professional actors in films. These included Bobby Burgess, the kid with the friendly Howdie Doody smile; singer and musician Tommy Cole, one of the 2 non-dancers on the show. Then there was performer Lonny Burr, the “intellectual” early bloomer of the Mouse club, who made his first commercial at age 5 then graduated from high school at 14. He later went on to graduate from UCLA’s Law School as well as became a poet and playwright.
Of course, a lot of other kid stars got their start on the Mickey Mouse Club Show. Some spent a season on the show and then went on to other more lucrative careers. Kids like Paul Peterson, who went on to star in The Donna Reed Show; Johnny Crawford who left the show to star in The Rifleman with Chuck Connors, and even Mickey Rooney, Jr.
One of the most popular Mouseketeers, Annette Funicello, was discovered by Walt Disney himself when he saw her dance the lead in her school’s production of Swan Lake. After staying with the show through its 3 seasons, until it went off the air, she then went on to a brief stint as a teen pop singer, teaming up with popular singer Paul Anka. Later, she started doing teen movies with teen heartthrob of the day, Frankie Avalon, in such memorable movies as Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo and with Tim Considine in The Shaggy Dog. Annette died in April 2013 from her long battle with multiple sclerosis.
The original Mickey Mouse Club Show celebrated its 50th anniversary in October 2005, but had aired its final broadcast in July 1959, with its final rerun shown in September of that year. A revival club, the All New Mickey Mouse Club TV show ran from 1989-1994, but didn’t really gain the same popularity as the original.
Today, you can find several of the original Mickey Mouse Club Shows on DVD that were released by the Disney Channel in 2005 to commemorate their 50th anniversary. You can revisit your childhood and watch the antics of your favorite Mouseketeer and still hear them sing their signature “Alma Mater” song at the end of the show…
Through the years, we’ll all be friends, wherever we may be…M-I-C- see you real soon…K-E-Y- why, because we like you!…M-O-U-S-E.