Dik Darley (1924-2016)
First Season Director
Dik Darley came to the Mickey Mouse Club via ABC, for whom he had worked for five years. A pioneer of live television, he had directed Space Patrol daily and weekly shows before being sent to the Disney Studio. He was responsible for directing the main Mouseketeer performances, on "Fun With Music Day", "Anything Can Happen Day", and "Talent Round-Up Day". He left after the first season of filming completed, despite the wildly successful debut of the show.
Born in Los Angeles, the eldest of three boys, he attended Los Angeles High School before becoming a carrier fighter pilot for the Navy in WWII. After the war he went to USC where he majored in radio production and writing, got a job with Don Lee-Mutual Broadcasting's experimental TV station, worked for KFMB in San Diego, before joining ABC-TV in Hollywood.
In 1950 he started directing Space Patrol, a live daily fifteen minute local television show. He stayed with it as it was turned into a weekly half-hour national show on ABC, right until the last show was filmed in February 1955. Dik was a perfectionist, who would insist on serious rehearsals, staging, and action. He thrived on the adrenalin rush of live television, and when things went wrong, never showed panic. What was this after all, compared to landing on a rolling carrier deck? When each live show was over, he would head to a bookstore, instead of a bar like his co-workers, to unwind.
Space Patrol was a resounding success, and only left the air due to a financial dispute between the network, sponsor, and executive producer. According to Ed Kemmer, the lead actor on Space Patrol:
"Dik Darley was a fine director. Intelligent understanding and imaginative. He had an excellent grasp of live TV and the TV camera. He often had cameramen do things they never thought they could do -- actors, too. His responsibilities were endless. A great amount of credit for the success of Space Patrol must go to him. He was fun to work with -- a man of taste and humor."
While still helming Space Patrol he also worked on what would be his own favorite project, a two-part live production of A Tale of Two Cities, for ABC's Plymouth Playhouse in 1953. His unusual first name came about by accident. A Space Patrol reviewer misspelled it, and an ABC co-worker told him don't bother correcting it. People would remember "Dik", where they might forget "Dick". But in the early sixties, his wife convinced him to drop the shortened moniker.
How Dik came to the show isn't known to me, but a likely guess would be that his reputation for coolness under pressure through five years of live television, and the fact that he worked for ABC, were major factors in his selection. He was committed to Space Patrol through the end of February 1955, and may have missed the initial cattle-call auditions for Mouseketeers in April 1955. It is known that he took part in final evaluations of kids selected for two-week trial periods during May of that year. He worked smoothly with production supervisor Hal Adelquist and choreographer Burch Mann to stage and film the Mouseketeer skits and musical segments. Dik had responsibility for the Mouseketeer portions of Fun With Music, Anything Can Happen, and Talent Roundup days, and also filmed all five Mouseketeer daily openings (Roll Call), and the several variations of the closing (Alma Mater).
Dik was popular with the kids on the show; he never lost his cool, never shouted or bullied. He spoke quietly and confidently to everyone, cast and crew, making it clear that, despite his soft-spoken manner, he was in charge and knew what he was doing. He had two youngsters of his own, and had worked with child actors on Space Patrol (including Lonnie Burr). He understood what the kids in the cast needed to do their jobs, and what the kids at home would want to see. He also understood Disney's desire for cross-marketing films, products, and Disneyland itself, and put as much effort into the endless promotions and lame skits based on Disneyland rides (e.g. Flying Toad Cars) as the more interesting musical numbers.
Dik tried to bring the film techniques of close-ups and reaction shots to television, something that hadn't been tried before on the small screen. He pioneered this on Space Patrol, and used it extensively on the Mickey Mouse Club, where it had the effect of highlighting the Mouseketeer's personalities for the viewers. Other film techniques he used included crane shots and wide-angle views. He was one of those who argued for the three-camera system of filming before production started. This system, which had only been used once before on television, allowed a production number to be filmed from three vantage points simultaneously, obviating the need for stopping and starting for additional set-ups. The finished film would then be edited to combine the best views of each part of the number.
Walt Disney had evidently never heard the saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". The television debut of the Mickey Mouse Club in October 1955 was an instant and overwhelming success. Nielsen ratings were very high during the first months on the air, yet according to Jerry Bowles, Walt Disney already felt the show needed a change. Whether Dik Darley resigned of his own accord, was dismissed, or left through mutual agreement, is unknown to me. By January 1956 he had been replaced by Sidney Miller, who despite steadily declining ratings, would direct most of the Mouseketeer segments for the next two years.
From the Mickey Mouse Club, Dik Darley left ABC and went to directing The Rosemary Clooney Show for NBC in 1956, then produced and directed the The Spike Jones Show the following year for CBS. He also directed individual episodes of shows like The Millionaire and Lassie, before creating his own animated science-fiction syndicated series, Space Angel, in 1962. From there Dik returned to directing television series (It's About Time, Paradise Bay), before turning to commercials. He had a lot of success through the sixties and seventies, with spots for Chevrolet, Hallmark, and other big name companies.
He continued directing series as well, doing Sigmund and the Sea Monsters in 1973 for Sid and Marty Krofft. This show featured two other Mickey Mouse Club veterans, Sharon Baird and former director Sidney Miller, who had returned to his performing roots. Dik directed episodes of another series for the Krofft's, The Lost Saucer, in 1975-76. His son, Chris Darley, also grew up to become a television director, for the game show Hollywood Squares. Dik Darley passed away April 21, 2016 at the age of 92.