Books About The Mickey Mouse Club
|Forever Hold Your Banner High!
The Story of the Mickey Mouse Club and What Happened to the Mouseketeers
by Jerry Bowles
Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York 1976
151 Pages, B/W Photos, Appendix
(Portions of this book appeared in Esquire in 1975-76)
Jerry Bowles is a New York based journalist and editor, who was twelve when the Mickey Mouse Club debuted on television in his native West Virginia. In two sentences he conveys the common experience of a hundred thousand American boys of his generation.
The book is built around face-to-face interviews the author had with the core group of ten Red Team Mouseketeers, with Roy Williams, and with Jimmie Dodd's widow, Ruth Carrell. These interviews were reported in the style made fashionable in the sixties, where the interviewer's thoughts are related but his words are seldom quoted, and where the ambience of the interview setting and the chance events and marginal people present on that occasion get as much play as the person interviewed. I've always distrusted this style of reporting; it's too easy for the writer to manipulate non-pertinent elements to color the reader's impressions of the subject.
In spite of my prejudice, though, the interviews in this book strike me as thoughtful and sympathetic, though not always fair. Jerry Bowles caught these folks at just the right time, about twenty years after the show started, when they had had time to reflect on the experience, and just before Disney woke up to the fact that its former Mouseketeers could be profitable again and should be reined in through financial inducements. Never again would they be this candid.
The author had to do his research from scratch. There was no internet to consult, no previous books to use as a guide, no videos or DVDs to review performances. He did make use of Amie Hill's interview of Dennis Day in the Rolling Stone (1971), and it's obvious he was getting a lot of coaching from Lonnie Burr, but Keith Keller's book only came out after Jerry Bowles had done most of his research and writing. The author casts each chapter into a standalone story-form; this reflects the original appearance of the interviews as separate articles in Esquire magazine. The only common theme is an air of melancholy, of unrealized hopes and unfulfilled potential.
Besides those interviewed in the book, he also spoke with many more people, members of the cast and crew, and Disney studio old-timers. Some are mentioned by name, like first-season Mouseketeer Lee Johann and director Dik Darley. Others remain anonymous, though some quotes of the latter type are plainly comments by Lonnie. From these talks he crafts a view of the show's inception that has Hal Adelquist, Bill Walsh, and Jimmie Dodd at its center, rather than Walt Disney. He also gives proper credit to the first season director Dik Darley and choreographer Burch Mann, and to later director Sidney Miller. This was the most important contribution to come out of the book: the proper identification of the creative minds that gave the show its unique appeal. The author demystifies Walt Disney's role in the Mickey Mouse Club, showing how slender his involvement was, and how shallow his commitment to a project he hadn't really wanted to do in the first place.