The original group of Mouseketeers made their TV debut on an ABC special on July 17, 1955, as a “teaser” to promote Walt Disney’s newest brainchild that officially launched three months later. Those original shows have been syndicated and re-aired many times since, and even though the black-and-white images of chipper, beaming Mouse-eared kids magically transport us to a more innocent and uncomplicated time, the truth is that behind the scenes it was still Show Business with a capital B, and the youngsters were forced to grow up in a hurry.
The Original Kids Weren’t that Cute
By the time the 90s version of the MMC was being cast, the producers were actively seeking poster-perfect kids whose smile would light up a room and make every parent wish that their own children were so aesthetically appealing. But when the producers of the original MMC launched their quest to find children for the cast, Walt Disney specifically instructed them not to hire professional “Shirley Temple types.” He wanted “regular” kids that the audience could identify with – and who didn’t come with domineering stage mothers.
That ideology looked good on paper, but with only a few months’ lead time, the producers had to resort to scouting local professional schools for kids who could sing and/or dance. This process led to one of the show’s first stumbling blocks: Disney wanted a “gender balanced” cast, but it turned out that far more girls enrolled in tap and ballet school than boys did. As a result, a number of highly qualified girls were left on the sidelines while they watched boys who could barely fumble their way through a musical number land a spot in the all-important Roll Call. In the battle of testosterone over talent, there was one clear winner.
Walt Disney stopped Annette Funicello from changing her name
Annette Funicello was one of the last Mice hired, and the only one specifically chosen by Walt Disney himself. Annette had been a very shy child, so her mother enrolled her in various dance and modeling classes to help bring her out of her shell. Uncle Walt spotted her in a school production of Swan Lake and invited her to audition for the MMC. After she’d been hired, young Annette approached Mr. Disney and timidly said that she’d like to change her last name to something less ethnic (a common practice for actors at the time). Walt told her to keep her name; he predicted that once the audience heard it, they’d never forget it. Of course, he was right and Annette quickly became America’s favorite Mouseketeer.
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