The New Look Along
Snow White Boulevard
The 1977-model Mouseketeers are a far cry
from the days of Mickey Mouse Club I
By Ellen Torgerson. Copyright 1977 by Triangle Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Along Dopey Drive, up Snow White Boulevard, down Mickey and Donald Avenues, the Walt Disney sentimental- entertainment factory in the Burbank badlands is turning out The New Mickey Mouse Club. The dozen fresh-picked, cutie-pie Mouseketeers will, no doubt, ultimately become enshrined in the hearts and minds of a new generation of television addicts.
There is one major difference in 1977, though. "This time around, it's an ethnic cross section, instead of lily-white like before," says a Disney executive. "Annette was about as ethnic as they got. Now, Lisa's great-grandmother is a full-blooded Cherokee, Angelo is a Chicano, Julie is our token Pole, and Mindy is our Jewish Princess." There are also a couple of black kids and a Chinese-Canadian chap.
"We had trouble finding WASPS," says another executive.
But for the most part, the unsophisticated kiddy charms of Mickey Mouse Club I still predominate. "We're not tampering with success," says series co-producer Mike Wuergler. "Essentially it's the same show -- but in color, with new music and a broader scope." That means the kids and viewers get outside the studio about three times a week and go for plane, boat and horseback rides, instead of sticking in a stuffy old studio.
A Mickey Mouse in a jump suit plays host as the kids, dressed in fancy pantsuits and pressed jeans, cavort around and about him. The mouse ears, too, have been slicked up, and the beanie has been replaced by a Jackie Kennedy kind of chapeau in colors to match the costumes.
The first Mickey Mouse Club ran from 1955 to 1957, went into shorter half-hour shows from 1957 to 1959, was syndicated from 1962 to 1965 and was re-syndicated in 1975. Potent statistics convinced the Disney people there were plenty of kids dying to wear mouse ears once again. When WNEW-TV in New York City sponsored a Mickey Mouse coloring contest in 1975, offering six watches as prizes, more than 125,000 children sent in crayoned tear-outs. And so the new series -- syndicated nationally -- began its fetching appearance this past January in the time slot somewhere between 4 and 5 P.M., five days a week. It's catching on, much in the manner of the old series. Thirty-eight stations across the country bought it right off, now 56 stations are showing it.
In a nationwide search for talent, Wuergler and his casting director went to nine cities in nine days. "We advertised in the local papers, rented a hotel ballroom, hired a pianist and saw 15 kids an hour in an eight-hour day," Wuergler says.
The 12 new Mouse-persons, seven girls and five boys, range in age from 8 to 14. Child-labor laws dictate that they work no more than four hours daily, but they spend at least another four taking dancing, singing and acting lessons, as well as regular school subjects.
Seen collectively, the new Mouseketeers have smashing smiles, no tummies and buckets of charm; they're as irresistible as week-old kittens.
Meet a few of the new Mice:
Mindy Feldman -- at 8, the youngest and tiniest, with deer-brown eyes and long, blonde hair -- eats her lunch of half a grapefruit, sliced canned peaches and a Nile-green gelatin mold.
"Will that be enough for you for lunch?" an adult asks.
"I'm on a diet," says Mindy. "I weigh 50 pounds, but I think I should get down to 40."
Curtis Wong is a 14-year-old Chinese-Canadian from the green hills of Vancouver. "I wasn't scared at all when I auditioned," he says. "But when they told me I'd made it, I didn't believe it." He knocked out other Mouse competition by doing his Maurice Chevalier number, "Wait till You See Ma Cherie." "Does 'Cherie' mean girl?" he asks. When told it means "darling" in French, he smiles.
"That makes sense," he says.
Billy "Pop" Attmore -- round-faced, 12 and black -- drinks inordinate amounts of soda pop, hence his nickname. Pop is one of the few genuine professionals in the Mouseketeer congeries. He's been in The Brady Bunch, The Dick Cavett Show, The Flip Wilson Show, Cher and two films.
"I've had an agent since I was 4," Pop says. "Actually, when I was little I never got that much work. I think it was because I showed up for jobs in a suit and tie. I betcha if I'd worn jeans I woulda had more work."
One charming new Mouse blurs into another -- there's jazz-pianist Allison; 12-year-old Kelly, lonely for her mommy in Miami; Shawnte, who bakes the best chocolate cupcakes in class; Scott, a punning wizard; Julie, competition for the dancing slippers of Leslie Caron; Nita, radiant as the lights on a Christmas tree; Todd, the nicest boy in on the block; Angelo. a guitar-playing mimic; and Lisa, whose beauty could bounce her right from the club to Charlie's Angels in a few years.
Perhaps the person who knows the tyro Mouseketeers best is their former teacher, Donna Gelgur, a tall, handsome woman whose keen appetite for her job was matched only by her obvious fondness for her pupils. "They're really very normal kids," she says. "When I cleaned up after school, I found lots of candy stashed away in their desks. They could OD on it.
"Is there anything more like a regular kid than that?"