Classic Kids’ TV: The Mickey Mouse Club
By Jo Holz
“Who’s the leader of the club that’s made for you and me?”
If you were a childgrowing up in the 1950’s, you would rush home after school every day to watch the The Mickey Mouse Club, the iconic hit show from Walt Disney Productions, which had already launched the popular Disneyland series. With its debut in 1955, The Mickey Mouse Club, named for the Disney studio’s best-known cartoon character, quickly became one of the defining children’s TV shows of its day. It had a variety show format that featured singing, dancing, guest stars, classic Disney cartoons, and continuing serials like The Hardy Boys and Spin and Marty.
The series aired five days a week, and each day had its own theme:
Monday – Fun with Music Day
Tuesday – Guest Star Day
Wednesday – Anything Can Happen Day
Thursday – Circus Day
Friday – Talent Round-Up Day
The show’s most distinctive element was its cast — a group of wholesome, talented teenagers called the Mouseketeers, who wore mouse-ear hats and sang and danced their way into the hearts of the viewing public. There were also two adult regulars, “head Mouseketeer” Jimmie Dodd, who had also composed the show’s theme song, and “Big Mooseketeer” Roy Williams, a rather rotund staff artist at Disney. Every episode of the show would start with the Mouseketeer Roll Call, a musical number in which each of the Mouseketeers would announce themselves by name.
Though many of the Mouseketeers gained name recognition and loyal fans, the most popular Mouseketeer was Annette Funicello, a beautiful and talented teen who was given her own serial on the show and later went on to a successful movie career. Annette was TV’s first real child star. Her dark Italian features gave her an “ethnic” look that was unusual for TV in those days, which largely favored blond, blue-eyed actors. In fact, all the Mouseketeers on the original show were white.
While Disneyland had been intended for viewing by the entire family, The Mickey MouseClub was designed to appeal specifically and exclusively to children. The large cast of Mouseketeers gave young viewers teenage role models they could idolize and emulate if they wanted to feel part of the “club.” Children could also get themselves their own mouse-ear hats and other licensed products to proclaim their club membership, and millions did.
The Mickey Mouse Club ran on ABC from 1955-1959, but was cancelled when ABC and Disney couldn’t come to terms for renewal. Audience demand brought it back in 1962 as a syndicated series in the form of edited half-hour reruns that ran in various markets until 1968. Disney revived the show in 1977 as The New Mickey Mouse Club, with a disco re-recording of the theme song and a new cast that now featured some minority Mouseketeers. The new version of the show spawned such stars as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Keri Russell, Kenan and Kel, and Melissa Joan Hart.
Here are a few clips from the original Mickey Mouse Clubshow – enjoy!
Jo Holz was formerly the head of research for Sesame Workshop, the producer of Sesame Street. She is the author of Kids' TV Grows Up: The Path from Howdy Doody to SpongeBob. kidstvgrowsup.com