Who's the leader of the club
That's made for you and me?
In the 1950's, every child in America (and probably every adult as well) instantly recognized this refrain as the beginning of the theme song for The Mickey Mouse Club, another 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.
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.
Among the many Mickey Mouse Club DVD collections currently available, I would recommend:
- Walt Disney Treasures - Mickey Mouse Club, featuring the first five episodes of the show, color archival footage of the Mouseketeers' first appearance at the grand opening celebration of Disneyland, and a reunion of six of the original Mouseketeers on the soundstage where the show was produced
- The Best of the Original Mickey Mouse Club
- Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club Presents Annette - 1957-1958 Season, a boxed set that includes 20 episodes from Annette Funicello's Mickey Mouse Club serial, a documentary featuring an interview with the adult Annette from the 1990's, and commentary by film historian Leonard Maltin
I would also recommend The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book (Paperback), which tells the story of the show from its beginning and traces the careers of some of the best-known Mouseketeers.