Books About The Mickey Mouse Club
|Walt, Mickey, and Me
Confessions of the first ex-Mouseketeer
by Paul Petersen
Dell Publishing Company, New York 1977
Paul now qualifies his claim in the sub-title of this book by adding the phrase "fired for Conduct Unbecoming". When he wrote it, he was unaware that Dallas Johann had been replaced by his older brother Lee for performance reasons prior to Paul's dismissal. This is a minor quibble, but it's indicative of a weakness that pervades this book: a feeling that Paul really doesn't know, or care much
about, the other Mouseketeers as individuals. Indeed, he seems to actively dislike Lonnie Burr and goes out of his way to insult him, and his memories of the crew are hazy ...e.g. choreographer Burch Mann wasn't a man.
Though Paul claims to have interviewed thirty-one of the Mouseketeers, only one of those interviews (Annette) is discussed. For the rest, there are quotes from the core Red Team members, and an anonymous male (probably Mike Smith). Anonymity is fine in some cases, but Paul uses it to titillate the reader by saying three male Mouseketeers are gay, two female Mouseketeers are easy, that another male Mouseketeer is a loser working behind the camera because he couldn't make it as a performer. Where he does provide specific details, it is mostly material that can be found in Keith Keller's Mickey Mouse Club Scrapbook, published two years before this book. The few exceptions to this are Lonnie, Doreen (whom Paul obviously liked and knew a great deal about from her own mouth), and Annette.
Okay, I've finished the negative side of this review; now let's talk about the book's strong points, for they greatly outweigh the weaknesses. If you really want to understand the Mickey Mouse Club show, its initial appeal, why it failed, and what were the common experiences of its cast, then you need to read this book. Using Nielsen ratings, his knowledge of show business and advertising contracts, and Disney's own production budget figures, Paul clearly explains why the show lasted only two years in its hour format, why it was cut to a half-hour for the third-season, and then replaced by reruns for the fourth. His explanation makes far more sense than the one still offered today in the official Disney sources, which imply that Walt felt there were too many commercials. And speaking of Walt, Paul offers a clear-headed assessment of his character, accomplishments, and failings.
Paul also is quite candid about his own misdeeds, both on the show and later on at a Disneyland appearance. In his short tenure (Paul says three weeks, but six seems more likely), he roamed endlessly about the studio, climbed the catwalks, argued with the crew, fought with Mickey Rooney Jr, pushed an unnamed female Mouseketeer (probably Bronson Scott) into a swimming pool for following him around, and then punched casting director Lee Traver in the stomach and called him Fatso. In short, he was a typical American boy in an atypical environment, and he responded just like a normal kid would.
His interview with Annette is revealing, but not in the way he intended. Paul clearly states several times that Annette received the bulk of her fan mail from upstate New York, where her large extended family lived, though he doesn't say where he got this information. Paul isn't fooled by Annette's modesty, her apparent need to be protected. He knows she is a cool, calculating, intelligent lady, who understands her own image very well. When Paul pushes a bit, insisting she must have known how big a star she was on the show, she stops him cold with a stiletto thrust about his first wife Brenda Benet (who, coincidently, was once involved with Lonnie Burr). He should have known better than to try and get her to go against the official Disney line; it's all in her favor, and she had nothing to gain by candor.