Television then and now -- through Mouseketeer eyes

"Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me? M -- I -- C -- K -- E -- Y M -- O -- U -- S -- E!" Chances are that you, your children, or your grand- children tramped through the living room, marching to the tune of that official "Mickey Mouse Club March" sometime during the original 1955-59 run of the show on television. Perhaps it all caught up with you during the subsequent syndicated reruns -- or the contemporary version which debuted in 1977.

In any event, you probably heard about it during last year's celebration of the 25th anniversary of the first show. And you may have been reminded of the mouseketeers if you see Annette Funicello doing one of her ubiquitous commercials on TV.

But just in case you are one of the few who have forgotten completely "The Mickey Mouse Club," New York's Museum of Broadcasting, now in the midst of a summer retrospective of Walt Disney's television shows, has been having public screenings of "The Mickey Mouse Club" all week. Today and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday) three of the original mouseketeers are making personal appearances.

I breakfasted at the Palace with the three mouseketeers -- at New York's new Palace Hotel, that is.

Sherry Alberoni, Sharon Baird, and Lonnie Burr were three of the mousketeers during the years of the original show. All three have matured into intelligent, well- adjusted adults. But they all confessed to me they will always be mouseketeers at heart.

The Disney publicist even sent me a mouseketeer cap, complete with Mickey Mouse ears. I planned to wear it to breakfast at the chic new hotel, but when the moment arrived, I sheepishly put away my cap and meandered into the hotel with only the ears I usually wear, half expecting to find the mouseketeers fitted out in their Mickey Mouse ears. But, no, this proved to be a business-like trio, intent upon doing the job that brought them to New York.

All three mousketeers appeared last year at Disneyland in a Mickey Mouse Revue, written and co-directed by Lonnie. They still have hopes of repeating the show at Disneyworld in Florida this year.

According to blond, bearded Lonnie, the most articulate of the three: "Whenever the mouseketeers get together I marvel at the fact that we are just as all- American as we are supposed to be."

He believes that "Mickey Mouse is the most universal symbol in the world of America. More than hot dogs or apple pie." Lonnie points out that the show has played all over the world -- for 14 years in Australia, for instance.

All three veterans of the club insist their participation in the show proved a major positive factor in their lives. Sherry, now married to a physician, does voices for cartoon shows like "Josie and the Pussycat." Sharon now acts in children's shows like "Puffin." Lonnie, a writer-actor, is the author of a book about comedy teams titled "Two for the Show."

"The club was like a second family for all of us. We all had the advantage of our regular family as well as the Disney family," says Lonnie. All of them profess great admiration for the way they were treated by Walt Disney himself.

Sharon and Sherry explain that none of the mouseketeers suffered educationally. "We were actually way ahead of the other kids," says Sherry. "We practically had private tutoring since we went to class on the set."

How do these kiddie-show vets feel about the current crop of children's programs on TV?

Sherry, who has two youngsters, answers: "My kids were raised on 'Sesame Street.' I try not to let them watch most of the other children's programming because I do voices for many of them and I am appalled at the amount of 'pow,' punching, and socking that goes on."

Sharon says that she would like to see "The Mickey Mouse Club" revived because it combined education with entertainment and there was so much audience participation, now mostly missing from children's programming. And violence was kept to a minimum.

All of the mouseketeers are amazed that so many of the mouseketeer products -- such as necklaces, ears and earrings -- are now considered "collectables" with a great market for all Disneyana. They are bringing 500 sets of new Disneyland Mickey Mouse ears to give away at the Museum of Broadcasting. Many of the original items are on view at the Disney Archives at the Burbank studio of Disney Productions.

Would they want their own children to wear Mickey Mouse ears?

"Why not?" they answer almost in unison. "My kids don't have the ears," giggles Sherry -- "but my husband does."

The mouseketeers gave one of the bellhops in the staid Palace Hotel a set of ears. "Thank you for turning me into an official mouseketeer after all these years." he said.

Me, too.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.