The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show
The following is taken from Chapter 5 of Eileen Diamond’s upcoming book of the same title. Let me start by saying I hope everyone is safe and secure in their homes while we undergo this very trying time.
You may be aware that I have met and communicated extensively with Mouseketeer Judy Harriet. Judy is very good friends with Mouseketeer Eileen Diamond. As the two Jewish Mouseke-girls, Judy and Eileen shared many similar feelings and experiences as Mouseketeers in retrospect, as well as similar backgrounds.
I had always been very impressed, if not taken, by Eileen as a dancer, singer and musician, particularly the depth of her training. The fact that she reminded me of the best-looking girl in the First Grade didn’t hurt. So, imagine my surprise when one day, as I’m seated at a coffee shop, I get an unexpected call from Eileen.
Now, Eileen had been writing a book over the past two or three decades entitled The Mouseketeer that Roared. Judy had exchanged our contact information with each other, and Eileen and I had exchanged e-mails concerning my helping her getting her draft ready for the publisher, Theme Park Press.
My original plan had been to assist Eileen with the section of her book about the Mickey Mouse Club. I would find however, that Eileen is even more a stranger to a computer than I am, and I ultimately re-worked the entire book with her. Stylistically, I found her wording too conversational: as it turns out, she dictated most of the book to a trusted friend. So, I formalized a lot of the text, and even added some of my own knowledge. Ironically, this included the facts that the socks for the “Ears Outfits” were blue, and that the tops were short-sleeved turtleneck sweaters.
With the permission of the publisher, I have selected two sections to share with you: the first concerns Eileen’s perceptions of the show as a young girl, primarily her star-turn as the only Mouseketeer piano soloist. Even though Eileen does not dwell on it, I feel her book is important because it addresses the pain that the majority of the Mouseketeers experienced when their contracts were not renewed for the next season. I mean, a 12-year old kid is a member of an exclusive club one day, and then suddenly put out on the street. How do you expect her to feel? Despite its “fun for all” attitude, this is something the Disney Studio simply ignored.
I have no financial interest in this, but I do suggest that anyone who really wants to know about the Mouseketeers should read this book. We don’t yet have a publication date, but please check availability at Theme Park Press.
I would like to think that with my stellar editing it shouldn’t take long, but you never know.
From The Mouseketeer That Roared by Eileen Diamond
My starring role and favorite performance piece was in a “Fun with Music Day” segment titled “The Basketball Ballet.” Although a lot of the Mouseketeers played musical instruments, I was one of the few who got an opportunity to solo on the show.
I was invited up to the studio’s “Executive Towers” for a story conference with the director and choreographer. The choreographer wanted to feature my talent on the piano. It was the first and last time I was ever asked to visit those hallowed offices. My body was shaking while I travelled the halls. But I was determined to carry off the role of a professional. I stood in front of the director’s office door, and took a deep breath before entering. The director was lying on a lounge and the choreographer was sitting on the desk facing the piano that was in the room.
The whole show would be based on my idea of being in a dream-sequence, seated at a majestic grand piano, dressed in a formal gown.
I was asked to sit down at the piano and play some jazz… if I could. I replied that all I knew was a little bit of boogie-woogie. I started to play it and then stopped in the middle and told them I would rather play something classical, like Beethoven.
In any event, I played the entire piece in one take. The segment was to run eight minutes. It began with the girls practicing ballet in a studio. I was the rehearsal pianist. Enter boy Mouseketeers clad in basketball shorts and shirts, dribbling and dancing with the ball. It was a three-minute dance segment with boys and girls challenging each other for floor space.
At the end, there was talk about a big show on Friday night. Everyone was invited but Cubby and me. Cubby was too short for the team. He was wearing a “Mascot” sweatshirt. I wasn’t invited because everyone wanted to hear boogie-woogie and I only played the classics! I played a few bars, sighed in dismay, and started playing Beethoven’s Für Elise.
While talking to Cubby, I wore a dark jumper and white blouse. There was a close-up of my hands on the keyboard. Fade out. Fade in and my dream began: I was dressed in a beautiful pink frilly evening gown, my hair done up in curls, wearing a gorgeous strand of pearls and high heels. Another close-up shot of my hands! Fade out at the end and I’m back in my jumper and white blouse.
All the Mouseketeers were standing around, enraptured by “Für Elise.” I played the final notes to enthusiastic applause. Cubby and I high-fived each other, winked and we all walked off stage. It was my own show!!
“Basketball Ballet” aired December 31, 1956, filmed in low-definition, glorious black-and-white.
Truthfully, Anything Can Happen Day was a convenient place to put anything that didn’t fit with the themes of the other days. A lot of it was promos. A lot of it was informative or even educational. This was in the days before Sesame Street.
‘Newsreels’ were 5-minute segments of noteworthy and newsworthy subjects shot on location. Four Mouseketeers interacted with the guest star or educator. In addition to performing, I landed the job of doing all the voice-overs in the recording studios back at Disney Studios.
Voice-overs consisted of an unseen voice narrating the scene. The director wanted a female narrator, and it seems the other Mouseketeer-femme had a lisp.
I worked on two Disneyland newsreels. The first, “Fun with a Camera” was shot at the San Diego Zoo. Our entourage consisted of four Mouseketeers and their mothers, the director, assistant director, makeup and costuming crew, a slew of technicians with cameras. We stayed at the San Diego Traveler’s Inn. I thought it was the Taj Mahal.
Earl Tyson was the chief photographer for Look Magazine. His amazing and insightful photos earned him many awards. He put cameras in our hands and we strolled through the San Diego Zoo taking photographs. It truly was exciting! Most of the segment was shot without sound. I did all of that in the recording studio after the location shoots were done.
The assistant director who came with us accidentally grabbed the wrong dress from the costume department. He took Sharon’s dress and she was smaller. My mother came to the rescue and let out seams and re-hemmed the dress. All by hand. And in two seconds flat!
The second newsreel, “Rookie Fireman” was filmed at the central fire station in downtown Los Angeles. We were there for a week. We learned the arduous training that firemen have to undergo to prepare for their work.
The grand finale featured me being rescued from a burning house by a fireman on a ladder, and carried down. This was all done on a set. The house set afire was a real concrete building. The façade was lined with asbestos and then really and truly set on fire! The fireman, dressed in his full emergency outfit, rushed onto the set carrying his ladder. After positioning it, he climbed up about 10 rungs, pulled me through the window, and carried me down. What I remember most was not being scared. I was just doing what I was told. And I knew the fire wasn’t really out of control.
On some weekends, the Mouseketeers were sent out to work special appearances.
Most vividly, I remember our show for The Boy Scouts of America. The Los Angeles Coliseum was packed with more than 80,000 scouts and parents. I had never seen so many kids before. They were all screaming and hollering for our autographs. I couldn’t believe that an audience that size could get so worked up.
I had no concept of “celebrity” and didn’t feel like a “star.” Everybody was screaming and idolizing us. Maybe we were famous!
There were lots of changes going on around us during the second full year of the Mickey Mouse Club. There would be a third season shrunk down to thirty minutes, and the show’s fourth year consisted of re-mixes from the first two years. That means they took film sections from popular shows and edited them into new shows. Years later, there was a lawsuit about their doing that. But Disney and his lawyers won. No more royalties for us. Some of us were asked back to do some voice-overs in the sound studio, but I was not.
My contract expired at the end of the second season and I wasn’t asked back for the third. I was shocked and disappointed. I called Doreen Tracey with the news.
“That’s show business.” she replied.
About 10 years after the show ended, Roy Williams, the biggest Mouseketeer, hosted a reunion at his home in the Valley. That’s where I rekindled my friendship with Mouseketeer Judy Harriet. She left at the end of the first season as I was coming in.
There were several informal Mouseketeer reunions over the years. Some were held at Disneyland and others at private homes. However, in 1980, an all-out, grand TV reunion was planned to celebrate and commemorate 25 years since the Mickey Mouse Club debuted.
I was living in Palm Springs at the time, married with two kids, and carrying about 10 extra pounds. But I managed to shed the pounds before driving into Los Angeles for the reunion. I didn’t want to be the only Mooseketeer!