The new administration has been at work for less than two days, moving immediately to contend with critical issues too long ignored. I can tell they are serious because they have set aside one day this week and next for each of the nation shaking crisises, jumping in on immigration reform and reconnection with the world on Wednesday, taking on Covid 19 on Thursday. Friday is economic relief day, and the start of the next week is already assigned to criminal justice reform and climate change.
It is likely to take more than a week to restore a once-great nation to first world status, but at least the calendar is in place, and it was in seeing the day-by-day plan that I was immediately pulled back to memory of the first truly organized pattern I experienced, my home life best characterized as an ad hoc experiment in laissez faire family survival.
There was, however, an organization that operated with breathless efficiency every afternoon, not only delivering A List entertainment, but organizing the afternoon’s diversions by day. It’s a different sort of enterprise these day, slick and contrived, green-screened and computer animated, the music now digitized, predictable and featureless, but in 1956, when I walked up the road from the school bus stop, I began humming show’s throbbing introductory refrain:
Mickey Mouse Club, Mickey Mouse Club …
(now the energy explodes) … Who’s the leader of the Club that’s made for you and me? (Ready for the spell-out?) M-I-C K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E.
(Snappy patter to complete the rhyme): Hey There, Hi There, Ho There, you’re as welcome as can be!
(Spell it as you yell it!!) M-I-C K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E.
Now the lilting call and response featuring the garbled attempt of another Disney creature trying to horn in on the celebration:
(Shouting) Mickey Mouse. (Quacking) donld duck. (Shouting) Mickey Mouse. (Resigned quacking) donald duck.
(All together now except defeated, disgruntled, despondent Donald Duck) Forever Let Us Hold His Banner High! (Tear It Up Mousketeers!) High, High, High, High!
(The invitation now, not simply to the club, and there weren’t many clubs at which I would be welcome, but to the jamboree!) Come along, and sing our song, and join the jamboree.
(At the end of the show, heartwarmingly affirming. Slowed down now, for emphasis) M-I-C (See ‘ya real soon) … K-E-Y (Why? Because we LIKE you)… M-O-U-S-E.
Much of the music was written by Jimmy Dodd, affable Head Mouseketeer, genial emcee and choreographer, comfortably shepherding the Mouseketeers through their paces throughout the week. He was often assisted by Roy Williams, knowns as “Big Roy” to Mousketeers and fans, a Disney artist whose large frame allowed him to offer softly corrective moralities the smiling Dodd was not prepared to share. Roy Williams was a pretty savvy guy in real life, but in the clubhouse appears to have devolved into a mouskaversion of genial Lennie in Of Mice and Men
Predictable as shingles after chicken pox, the days of the Mouseweek reeled on, propelled into action by one of Dodd’s catchy tunes.
Monday was MUSIC DAY, allowing the hyper talented Mousketeers to shame the likes of me, still trying to learn how to whistle, also learning to spit; the two attainments were often confused. In any case, Music Day began with a Busby Berkley cascade of mousketeers shifting front and back, impressive and appreciated but far too complicated for me to follow. On the other hand, it did allow me to gauge the relative size and age of the cast, Bobby and Doreen towering over tiny Karen and Cubby. In a seamless cut, Jimmy took us to the more intimate performance, any one of which today would cause any culturally sensitive viewer to collapse in shame and regret.
The first two were seven year old girls so disguised by costume and wigs that I never quite knew which mouseketeers they were, performed a can-can number in front of a backdrop of Paris, ending with a vigorous jutting of their can-cans. Not to be outdone, and emphasising the wide world of music (It’s actually kind of a small world when you think about it). We saw a flamenco couple sing with labored Spanish accent, Karen and Cubby doing a pretty Irish jig, a pair from China, eyes taped to slits, wobbling in “humorous” wind-up doll fashion, precocious Annette performing a solo hula, virtually adult Bobby (a pretty nifty dancer!) portraying a Hindu while dressed as a Balinese dancer.
Tuesday was Guest Star Day, my least favorite day, featuring a remarkably flaccid and repetitive song and dance, essentially cleaning the “clubhouse”, a task only made bearable by seeing Jimmy dust off Roy’s bald head as the ears were momentarily lifted.
That said, how did not appreciate the guest talent dragged in under duress, maybe coerced by Walt himself? I found the performances unbearable; today I’d love to see some of the recycled former luminaries, “celebrities” who could stroll the streets by the time they did the Mouse gig without any fear of being approached by autograph seekers. I’m suggesting a slice of the entertainment pie less tasty than appearances at State Fairs or Elks Club galas. But, on Tuesday kids such as I saw Jerry Colonna and Judy Canova, familiar to me then only as caricatures tossed into Warner Brothers Cartoons among other folks I also didn’t care about, Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Cagney, Greta Garbo, and a comedian who had a very short half-life, Joe Penner, whose catch phrase, “Wanna Buy A Dick” confused me. There were musical performances I’d enjoy now including: The Sons of the Pioneers, The Mellomen, The Rolling Robinsons, the in-house Disney septet, The Firehouse Five Plus Two, The Birk Twins whose talent was in being identical, The Bell Sisters who were one-hit-wonders from the Bing Crosby Show, and one of the most bizarre showman ever to appear in Mouseland, “Candy” Candido, a performer in big bands, his solo act consisted of hiding under a piano, then springing out to sing a ballad alternating his falsetto and raspy bass.
Wednesday was Anything Can Happen Day which must have been the producers what-the-hell-day as they tossed in insane costuming and mannered performances during the “roll call” and brought in whatever happened to be lying on the floor of a Disney set somewhere. There were clips from various dated nature films and odd travel films, including boys in South Africa performing a Leopard dance, yet another moment of confusion for me in the universe of childhood confusions.
The roll call numbers do reveal the lengths to which the show would go to indovidualize the cast. Jimmy kicked it off as usual with another song past remembering, then the line-up danced through the curtains. Smallest first: Karen, a tiny Chinese courtesan, Cubby, a cowboy, Lonnie, unrecognizable in a crocodile costume from Peter Pan, Johnny, sidling out as he played the bass drum in which he was trapped, Mike as a prancing leopard, Nancy as a donkey dancing the Charleston, Darlene tumbling as a clown in full makeup, Maurene as a ballerina, Sharon encased in a bear suit, Annette in a lion’s costume, Donny as a jet and its pilot, Bobby as a captain and his ship, and Roy riding a tricycle.
That’s pretty much it, as the rest of the show was likely a recycled cartoon and a messy musical number, Jimmy and the cast creating a junk band by using, well, junk.
Thursday was Circus Day. Enough said? One could note that the harem, also the dancing girls, were probably delighted to be prancing, although they were often placed in questionable roles by the Disney team. Annette went on to become a teen star, of course, Doreen sang and danced in USO shows in Viet Nam, and Darlene ended up doing time for shoplifting, check kiting, and fraudulent scamming. Darlene is the only surviving Harem Girl.
The Mouse week ended on Friday, and with a bang. Talent Round Up Day! Best song by far. Let’s remember that these Mouskaprodigies were the cream of the kid star crop. Cubby was the most pyrotechnical with a blazing drum solo, but they could all sing and dance. Just to set the stage, as it were, neither Paul Williams nor Candace Bergen made the cut. Paul Peterson and Don Grady, both of whom would go on to tv stardom (Donna Reed Show and My Three Sons) were on the third team, appearing only occasionally.
Five days a week they cavorted in costume, alway perky and seemingly delighted to be cavorting – a pretty impressive legacy. Finally, however, the most enduring of all the rites and rituals carried out by the Mouskatalents was the incantation by which Cubby and Karen enticed the cartoon gods to throw open the double-doored vault and release an ancient Disney cartoon. Karen and Cubby, terminally cute, strode to the door and began:
Time to twist our Mouskadial
to the right and the left with a great big smile
This is the way we get to see
A Mouse cartoon for you and me
Then in solemn tones:
Meeska, Mooska, Mouseketeer,
Mouse Cartoon time now is here
Well, enough mouskemoments, except that, in an odd confluence of events, we moved to a small scandal and celelbrity free town in Oregon, where Dennis Day, one of the original Mousketeers, was murdered and left to decompose only a few months after we had unpacked.
Nothing lasts forever, as the sages remind us, even Mouskemagic, but there was a shining moment when I knew each day of the week would bring jollity and reassuring kindness, buoyant, talented kids and generous, gentle adults. The newly inaugurated president is carrying out his own generous talent round up as I write, and I’m hoping these generous, competent adults can work some magic of their own in their first week of significant days.