Robert Wayne Amsberry was born June 2, 1928 in Boring, Clackamas County, Oregon, not far from the city of Portland. He was the third child of Ernest and Cassie Amsberry. Ernest, originally from Nebraska, was a truck driver for the local phone company, a mighty good job to have during the Depression. Cassie, an Oregon native, took care of Bob and his older sisters Lois and Phyllis.
Bob was musically-inclined and a natural entertainer. He had a flair for voice characterization, which helped him get a career in radio. A quick-thinker, he could rapidly produce story ideas and then improvise dialogue for them. By 1954 he had a daily half-hour program called Uncle Bob's Squirrel Cage on Portland radio station KEX. Bob wrote, produced, and hosted the mid-day show, in which he also did the voices for several "critters".
Bob was ambitious and wanted to break out of local radio programming. A friend and former colleague of his at KEX, George Bruns
, who was also from Clackamas County, Oregon, invited Bob to come down and join the Disney Studio's Music Department. So Bob and his wife Beverly (also from Portland) and their two small children moved to Los Angeles, renting an apartment in the Valley while they looked for a home. Bob was assigned to write some songs for the Mickey Mouse Club show during pre-production. He was so enthusiastic about the assignment, and did so well performing songs for the production staff, that he was drafted into the cast from the start.
Bob described his role on the show as a utility man, devising skits and writing songs, handling guest star or circus act introductions, and performing any character parts beyond Roy's limited thespian skills or for which Jimmie Dodd was too distinctive. He was a capable actor, a decent singer and dancer, but his efforts as a lyricist were hit and miss. He mainly worked with freelance composer Muzzy Marcellino for most of the twenty-five songs he wrote while at Disney, but also collaborated with studio composers Franklyn Marks and Marvin Ash.
His best songs were Super Goofy Shuffle, Doin' the Donald Duck Walk, and Dry Gulch Cowboy, the last set to music composed by Jimmie Dodd, but his Friendly Farmers number in the first show was derided as "animal noises" by a New York Times columnist. Ruth Carrell Dodd and Bob also collaborated on a couple of songs, including Darlene (a counterpoint to Jimmie's song Annette), and Rose Festival Time, a celebration of the annual parade in Bob's hometown.
Bob didn't have much in the way of screen credit or publicity at first. His only stint in Roll Call came during Circus Day
for season one. But for the second season he was given a somewhat regular role as Blue team leader for Guest Star Day
, while on Circus Day he would introduce the acts by posing as a sideshow barker. He also received some print and photo publicity as a leadup to being a guest of honor (with the Mouseketeers) for the Portland Rose Festival from June 6-10, 1956.
Besides his Blue team work, Bob also had a semi-regular character bit as an elderly Soda Jerk for several Fun with Music Day
skits like The Malt Shop
and 1925 Sweetshop
. He played the lead in the latter skit, his character growing progressively younger in flashbacks from 1955 to 1925 and then 1895, where as a handsome young man he waltzes with Doreen
. Bob was popular with the kids, readily joking and teasing with them, and with his adult colleagues as well, but failed to charm the studio head.
Bob's songs and schtick didn't find much favor with Walt Disney. According to Lorraine Santoli
, Walt Disney sent a memo to producer Bill Walsh
in early spring of 1956 asking that Bob be released. Bob was making only $160 a week, much less than the Mouseketeers, which suggests Walt Disney had some reason other than finances to want him off the show. However, Bill Walsh seems to have protected Bob, keeping him under contract until September 1957 and using him for several third season skits and the serial Mystery of Ghost Farm
. Bob also did voice characterizations for very minor parts in at least one Disney animated film.
Unfortunately there was very little aftermath to the Mickey Mouse Club show for Bob. While filming the show, he and Roy Williams had carpooled to the studio. Roy told Jerry Bowles in 1975 that Bob used to complain about Roy's inattention to the road while driving. Ironically, a few months after his dismissal from Disney, it was Bob who was killed in an automobile accident in Portland, on November 20, 1957.