On Monday afternoon, Oct.3, 1955, a generation of American kids raced home from school, plopped down on their living room floors and waited for their black-in-white TV sets to warm up so they could watch a new show. It wasn't the first kids' show on TV,but they knew this one would be different.
It isn't an exaggeration to say that " The Mickey Mouse Club" forever altered American pop culture. Walt Disney already had the cartoons and animated films and had opened a big amusement park in Anahiem only a few months earlier. But the addition of TV to the corporate vision put a lock on the hearts and minds of American kids that holds fast to this day. For a couple of hundred folks who braved Saturday's bluster to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio, time hasn't stood still, but it hasn't faded from memory either.
Bobby Burgess, Carl "Cubby" O'Brien and Sharon Baird were among the small group of "kids next door" who became the first teenage idols of the TV generation. They may be a bit older these days- Bobby and his wife of 40 years,Kristie, just became grandparents of twins- but they remember their time on the original "Mickey Mouse Club" as if it were yesterday.
There were actually 39 Mouseketeers from the first incarnation of the show, from 1955-58. The host was actor Jimmie Dodd, who wrote many of the songs, including the show's theme song. He was assisted by the show's "Mooseketeer," a burly animator named Roy Williams, who came up with the idea of hats for the kids fitted with Mickey Mouse ears.
Bobby Burgess, among the show's standouts because of his dancing skills,swoon-worthy head of thick hair and constant grin, never really liked wearing "the ears" as he and others still call the hats.
"We had high pompadours in the 50s," he told the Family Museum audience. "And the ears always messed up your hair."
The Mouseketeers themselves became, as Sharon put it, "like a second family,"and we still keep in touch. As kids, Sharon and Annette Funicello were best friends and remain close contact today. Inevitably, the audience wanted to know how Annette was doing and Sharon, who'd seen her in September, was happy to report that her friend, who has multiple sclerosis, remains "as beautiful as ever on the inside and the outside."
Saturday's program included video of the show's opening, still photos of the kids and a clip from the time Cubby played the drums on the show along with his dad, Haskell O'Brien, and older brother Warren. Cubby had started out in the show's Talent Roundup portion but was quickly elevated to the front of almost every group shot you'll ever see of the Mouseketeers, once the show's directors realized he'd pair well with Karen Pendleton.
While some of their cast-mates have had their ups and downs, most of the Mouseketeers have avoided the kind of scandal that seems to dog many pop stars today."My dad was a meatcutter," Bobby says,adding that he grew up in Long Beach, where his family remained even after he became famous on the show.
All remain active in show business. Bobby was not only a regular on "The Lawrence Welk Show" for 21 seasons but is also now hosting the just-renewed reruns that show up in syndicatuion on PBS. He also teaches ballroom dancing at Burgess Cotillion, which he and his wife have operated in Long Beach for nearly 25 years.
Cubby, who now lives in Washington state, remains an in-demand professional drummer. Over the years, he's worked with the Carpenters, Andy Williams, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters and,for two seasons, on "The Lawrence Welk Show."
Sharon worked in childern's TV for years. Her small stature made her perfect for wearing animal costumes in shows by sid and Marty Krofft,among others, and she was an onstage assistant to the melon-smashing comic Gallagher for a while. Today she is semiretired and lives in Reno, where she does nails at a salon.
They were no longer kids when Walt Disney died in 1966, but still felt like a death in the family. Sharon was working in Elko, Nev., with her ex-husband and another man in a revue called "Two Cats and a Mouse." When she heard the news about Walt Disney's death, she "cried for hours," she said.
Bobby had had a chance reunion with his mentor only a few months earlier. He happened to be hiking near Devils Postpile National Monument when, coming towards him on the trail was an older man with his head characteristically looking downward. "Mr. Disney?" Bobby saided. The man looked up at him and said, "Mouseketeer Bobby."
Mouseke-tibdit: The Mouseketeers weren't allowed to keep their costumes or ears, but Cubby is said to have the biggest collection of memorabilia,including , he said, "Cubby and Karen (Pendleton) cut-out dolls.
Cubby's dad, the drummer Haskell "Hack" O'Brien, is 96 and lives in San Diego. He's the last surviving Mouseketeers parent.
Bobby has copies of all the Disney movies and, as a kid, named his dog Bambi.
Bobby once got out of a speeding ticket in Los Angeles when the cop recognized him and said he'd let him off if he told him about Annette Funicello.
Host Jimmie Dodd wrote most of the music on the show, including the opening march and the slower-tempo version that closed the show: "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."