Mouseketeer Memories

by Sheila Hagen, staff writer

On October 2, 2005, a reunion of sorts was held at Disneyland's Plaza Gardens to help celebrate Disneyland's 50th Anniversary. And who better to relive that anniversary than some of the Mouseketeers who were there on opening day at Disneyland on July 17, 1955.

The Plaza Gardens stage awaits the arrival of the original Mouseketeers. Photo by Sheila Hagen.

Some of the original cast of The Mickey Mouse Club came together on Sunday, October 2, 2005—in conjunction with the release of Mickey Mouse Club merchandise, pins, collectible dolls and a special event to create the largest-ever set of Mickey Mouse ears—to talk about their days appearing on the television show that premiered the same year (1955) as Disneyland.

Although the event consisted mostly of discussion about the television show, the panelists showed they still could sing and dance like the pros they were 50 years ago. It was also evident that they have all remained good friends to this day. Good-natured teasing and ribbing marked the banter amongst the group as they reminisced about days gone by.

The event opened with the 2005 Disneyland Ambassador, Rebecca Phelps, and Mickey Mouse introducing the 10 Mouseketeers able to attend the event. Backed by a live band, the Mouseketeers marched onstage and sang, wearing costumes similar to the 1950s show.

Disneyland Ambassador Rebecca Phelps and Mickey Mouse introduce the panel discussion guests. Photo by Sheila Hagen.

Each of the Mouseketeers introduced themselves and gave a quick summary of what they had been doing for the last 50 years:

Karen Pendleton – Karen retired from show business years ago. Suffering a spinal cord injury from a car accident, Karen found the incentive she needed to go back to school. She obtained a master's in psychology and now works in that field.

Mary Espinosa – Mary worked in the aerospace industry for 15 years. Married, she has two children and two grandchildren. She currently runs a wellness/meditation center and still loves to dance.

Carl "Cubby" O'Brien – Cubby has played drums professionally for 50 years since leaving the show. He is currently living in New York, and has been the drummer for Andy Williams, Bernadette Peters, and the Carpenters. Currently working on Broadway theater productions, he has played on Annie Get Your Gun, The Producers, Gypsy, and currently touring with Chicago.

Don Grady – After The Mickey Mouse Club, Don appeared on the 1960s sitcom, My Three Sons. Since then, he has worked as a composer, with his most recent efforts the Disney Princess Tea Party DVD. He also composed "Songs of Wonder" for the upcoming Disney film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Bobby Burgess – For 21 years, Bobby was a featured dancer on the The Lawrence Welk Show, and has been married for 34 years. His four children help him teach 1,500 kids cotillion ballroom dancing.

Sharon Baird – Currently single, Sharon lives in Reno with her 85-year-old mother. Sharon has done cartoon work on shows such as Dumbo's Circus and Welcome to Pooh Corner.

Cheryl Holdridge – Cheryl had a recurring role on Leave It to Beaver and The Ozzie & Harriet Show. She married into royalty and became a countess. She currently resides in Santa Monica and spends her time performing volunteer and philanthropic work.

Sherry Alberoni – Sherry has worked in the cartoon business over the years. She has been married for 34 years, lives in Orange County and has two married daughters. She said that she has a Mickey Mouse head-shaped swimming pool.

Tommy Cole – For 16 years, Tommy worked as a singer, dancer and actor, but then moved to behind the scenes as a make-up artist. He currently works as a business representative for make-up artists. He has been married for 37 years.

Doreen Tracey – During the '60s, Doreen traveled the world with an act she developed, and performed for a year "in country" in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. After that, she worked with Frank Zappa and on the Power Rangers television show. Currently, she works at Warner Bros. in anti-piracy efforts, and is about to become a grandmother.

Also in the audience was Glen Holt, who attended on behalf of his wife, Annette Funicello, who was unable to attend due to health issues.

Bobby and Sharon show they can still swing dance with the best of them. Photo by Sheila Hagen.

After the initial introductions, the Mouseketeers did a quick medley of songs from The Mickey Mouse Club, which featured a drum solo by Cubby and a swing dance demonstration by Bobby and Sharon, who can still dance very athletically.

The panel discussion began with the introduction for director of Disneyland publicity and author, Tim O'Day, who served as moderator. O'Day started off the discussion with a question for each panelist: "How did you get on the show?"

Don – He attended an audition at the Cow Palace auditorium in San Francisco, and mentioned it was a cattle call [everyone groaned]. There were 500 kids at the audition and he had seven minutes to perform. He did imitations, played musical instruments, tap danced, and sung. He was brought back to meet Walt Disney and remembers smelling the smells of stage make-up for the first time.

Bobby – He went on an audition for the Spin and Marty show, where they asked him if he could sing and dance. Since he had a pair of tap shoes with him, he performed both a tap dance and his signature gimmick, barefoot jazz dancing to the song "Rock Around the Clock." After five auditions, he was finally picked by Walt Disney, and was on the show for four years.

Cheryl – During the second year of The Mickey Mouse Club, she was sent on audition for The Hardy Boys. Although her agent did not want her to try out for the Disney show, she called the show's casting agent and got an audition. Unfortunately, she forgot her song and sang off-key, but on her second audition for the show, she was picked.

Doreen – Her father owned the Rainbow Dance Studios back then, and people like Debbie Reynolds and George Balanchine's ballet company used to rehearse there. One day, Lee Traver, the casting agent for the show, called to let them know about casting for The Mickey Mouse Club show. She asked her father to let her go to the audition, but her father said that they had to post the notice for everyone else to see, too. So, even though they all went, she still got the job.

Tommy – Back then, he played the accordion and was a boy singer. He played "Mexicali Rose" on the accordion for the audition, and Traver liked him. He went through several other auditions and even screen-tested for Spin and Marty to see if he would freeze on screen. He didn't dance at all, but the other Mouseketeers helped him get up to speed as a dancer.

Sherry – In the second year of the show, her older brother Roy auditioned as a drummer for the show. While he didn't get picked as they already had Cubby, he was sharp enough to suggest his little sister (Sherry). He told them she could play the trumpet and tap dance at the same time. So she did it, almost knocking out all her teeth—and got the job.

Sharon – She was working for Capital Records at the time, recording a song for the film, Artists & Models, with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Jimmie Dodd (who was not only the "head Mouseketeer" but also wrote songs for the show) heard and recommended her. She auditioned by jumping rope and tap dancing double-time all while singing, "I Didn't Know the Gun was Loaded." Prior to that, her legs were insured at the age of 7 by Eddie Kantor while she appeared on The Colgate Comedy Hour.

Cubby – When he was 4 or 5 years old, his father started giving him daily drum lessons. He was in a children's Dixieland band, and one Christmas his band performed at a Screen Actors Guild benefit show. Some producers were in the audience and sent him off to audition for Jimmie Dodd. Jimmie asked him to sing "Happy Birthday" just to see if Cubby could carry a tune. Karen [Pendleton] came along after and the producers liked them together, so they became a team after that. Cubby didn't know how to tap, but learned while on the show because the rhythm of the tap steps were similar to drumming.

Karen – She and some other friends auditioned, but she got the job. She got the giggles and made mistakes. They thought that was pretty natural and picked her to be on the show.

Mary – At 4 and a half, Mary was an accomplished tap dancer and danced at every state and county fair in Los Angeles. She was selected to appear on The Loretta Young Show as a girl scout. It turned out that while rehearsal at a dance studio, the choreographer for The Mickey Mouse Club show saw her.

Tim O'Day interviews the 10 Mouseketeers. Photo by Sheila Hagen.

Tim O'Day then asked, "What was an average day like back then?"

Sherry said that they worked Monday through Friday, eight hours each day. Three hours were spent in school, one hour for lunch, and four hours were left for working on the show. Bobby added that the children worked on a production line as a result. He was on the "Red Team" because that group said their names on television.

Also brought up was the fact that they also worked in the Mickey Mouse Circus at Disneyland. Every morning, Tommy's mother would pick up Billy Jean Beanblossom (another Mouseketeer) and then Annette Funicello. Then they'd drive two-and-a-half hours each way to Disneyland. The freeways weren't built yet so it was all surface streets. There'd be a trailer for school at Disneyland. They didn't stay at a hotel so drove back home every night.

The Mouseketeers went on to talk about what it was like working at Disneyland in the circus. Sharon said that you could see orange trees surrounding the park. Bobby added that he worked on the trapeze and rode a horse for the circus.

Doreen mentioned that they had her working up on a rope even though she had vertigo. One time, she looked down and froze. They had to get her down with a ladder.

Sharon revealed that they all got to "warm up" the rides at Disneyland before the park opened. Her favorite were the cups and saucers [Mad Tea Party]. Don said they had Tom Sawyer's Island all to themselves after the park closed for the day. Tommy added that his favorite ride to warm up was the Autopia. Back then, there were no governors on the cars. However, after he crashed one, they were no longer allowed to warm up the Autopia cars. Bobby added that years later, he proposed to his wife in the Skyway buckets.

Tim O'Day then asked, "Did you [the panel guests] help open Disneyland?"

Sherry mentioned that although she was not yet a Mouseketeer, she was a "Red Feather" kid. [Author's Note: Back in the 1950s and 1960s, a red feather lapel pin was given to children who donated to the Community Chest, a charitable organization.] She was to make an ice cream sundae for Walt Disney on opening day. She made it for him, but the photographers kept asking to take another photo and since it was so hot, the ice cream melted all over his suit.

The Mouseketeers performing. Photo by Sheila Hagen.

Sharon added that after the Mouseketeers rode in the opening day parade, they were put up in Walt's apartment above the firehouse on Main Street. She remembered watching Walt standing there and seeing that he had a lump in his throat and a tear trickling from his eye; he was finally seeing the dream he imagined.

Tommy mentioned that The Mickey Mouse Club wasn't on yet, so nobody knew who they were. Don added that the best moment for him was when he got to march down Main Street with the other Mouseketeers.

Tim O'Day asked about Jimmie Dodd and his role in writing the music for the show.

Bobby relayed the story of how Dodd was chosen to be the head Mouseketeer. The producers engineered it so that Disney would choose him as the host. They had Dodd perform "The Pencil Song" for Walt. As Dodd walked out, Walt mentioned that he would be the perfect choice for the role, not knowing that it was all a set-up to get Walt to pick him. The Mouseketeers said he was the perfect father figure, as he had no children of his own, and always looked after them.

The discussion then turned to Roy Williams, the adult "Mooseketeer" in The Mickey Mouse Club. Tommy said that he loved to tease them all the time; he never said a bad word about anybody. Bobby added that Williams was originally a gag man [and Disney animator], and wrote material like "The Shoe Song."

Doreen related the story of Roy and the Cessna plane that he owned. Disney often played golf at Griffith Park, and Williams would fly his plane over the golf course so that he would skim right over Disney, and would also let out smoke over the ninth hole. Disney didn't know who was in the plane, but he eventually found out. Disney told Williams that he would have his license to fly pulled if he ever did that again.

Bobby added that Williams was the inventor of the Mickey Mouse ears, which appeared in an early cartoon where Mickey took his ears off.

Doreen told of how the kids would be docked $25 if they ever lost their "ears." Once, a tour group came through the studio and both hers and Annette's ears disappeared then. Bobby related how the ears were specially molded to each actor's head. Once, while in Oklahoma City performing, he said his ears were stolen off his head by a teenager as he leaned out of the tour bus signing autographs. The heavy-set casting director got off the bus and tackled the teenager to get the ears back. Bobby joked that he saved 50 bucks!

Sherry added that the boys hated wearing the ears because they all were wearing pompadour hairstyles. Tommy said that the wardrobe people would initially set all the ears to be straight up on their heads. As soon the cameras starting rolling, all the boys would push the mouse ears back. The wardrobe department finally gave up.

O'Day asked the panelists what were their most favorite aspects of the show were. Sherry answered by recounting how she had a lisp but they kept giving her songs, like, "Some Days There Just Ain't No Fish." Sid Miller, the director of the show, would give her all the lines that had a lot of S's. She'd get really mad and tell her mother, "Thath darn Thid Miller, changing all my lines!"

Karen's favorite memory was when they were filming a vitamin commercial. They all got the giggles so bad that it took 32 times before they got it right. She remembered Miller [director of the show] pounding on the wall crying.

O'Day asked what everyone's most favorite show was. Some answers included: The music shows, "the ones I was in" [which drew a big laugh], pirate, leprechauns, the tramp ballet, and a silent movie show. Don ruefully added that he finally got a line to speak and so over-rehearsed it, that the producers gave the line instead to Cubby to perform.

Bobby said his was when he volunteered to ride a unicycle on Circus Day. He didn't know how then but he learned. Then when he got there, he was told he'd have to juggle and ride at the same time. He never learned how to be stationary on the cycle but can only ride front and out to this day.

O'Day then asked them about romance on the show. Cheryl responded that they all had crushes on each other in the first year. Tommy had crushes on Darlene and Sharon, but Sharon's father told him, "Don't you ever come near her again." But basically, all were like brothers and sisters to each other; they could all finish each other's sentences.

O'Day's final question for each of them was, "What was the greatest memory of the show?"

Mary – Being allowed to introduce the cartoons by saying "Meeska, mooska, mousketeer, mouse cartoon time now is here."

Karen – Her "Karen in Cartoonland" segment, where they showed how they do animation.

Cubby – His brother also played drums and once on one of the Talent Round-Up Day shows, he, his brother, and his dad all got to play drums together.

Sharon – On the final day of taping The Mickey Mouse Club, she and Annette were asked to film reaction shots of them being happy. The tears rolled that day and they went through two boxes of Kleenex.

Sherry – On her first day of filming, she was walking on the Disney studios lot wearing her Mouseketeer costume. Walt Disney walked by and greeted her with, "Hi, Mouseketeer Sherry." She was so thrilled he knew her! [Then, Sherry points to her chest where her name is written in large block letters—audience laughs.]

Tommy – He was a boy singer, but wasn't a quick study. He was usually given a song to perform the day before taping. He was supposed to sing "My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii" with a live orchestra. They started shooting but he blanked out and made up words for the whole song. Sid Miller had them continue, but Tommy remembers Sid off to the side on his knees pounding the floor because he couldn't stop laughing.

Doreen – When she was 14, she, Cheryl and Annette met for lunch everyday at the studio commissary, to have turkey sandwiches and Seven-Up. It was a magical time for them. The Walt Disney studios lot was their playground. She added that she wished Annette were there [at the panel discussion].

Cheryl – She broke her toe the day before her first day on the show. She was scared to death, but Doreen took care of her. Doreen was the maid of honor at her wedding.

Bobby – When he was 17, he got to go Australia with Jimmie Dodd as his guardian. He also loved dancing with Annette, who was a ballet dancer. He got to partner her in a ballet and do lifts on the Annette song.

Cubby – When on a trip to Australia, his dad played drums in the band.

Don – He said that the following story was for Glen Holt (Funicello's husband, who was in the audience): His most special moment was when Annette kissed him on the forehead. She came over with a couple of the other girls and he guessed that she thought he was cute or something and planted on one on his forehead.

The Mouseketeers don their 50th Anniversary mouse ears. Photo by Sheila Hagen.

O'Day concluded the panel discussion on that story, and the Mouseketeers treated the audience to some words from Walt Disney: "There's something magical about these ears. Just put them on and all at once, you belong. You've joined the most magical club in all the world—and in this club, your membership lasts forever. Once a Mouseketeer, always a Mouseketeer!"

Mouseketeer finale with Mickey Mouse. Photo by Sheila Hagen.

And with that they closed with the Mickey Mouse Alma Mater song:

Now it's time to say goodbye to all our company.
M-I-C — See ya real soon — K-E-Y
Why, because we like you! M-O-U-S-E!

Then on Monday they returned to the park, along with hundreds of Annual Passholders for a special even in which they made a pair of the world's largest Mickey Mouse ears in front of the castle. The returning Mouseketeers once again did their performance and paraded down Main Street as that day's Grand Marshals for the parade.

The Mickey ears template is set in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Annual Passholder volunteers come out to make the Mickey ears, all dressed in black. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Black Mickey Ears result once everybody is in place, but this is 50th Anniversary so black Mickey ears aren't good enough... Photo © Disney.

...So they all put on their gold mickey ears and shake their gold pom-poms. Photo © Disney.

Everybody poses in front of the castle. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The Mouseketeers once again put on a show. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Bobby and Sharon still have the moves. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The Mouseketeers get paraded through the park. Photo by David Michael.