Books About the Mickey Mouse Club
|Ears & Bubbles
by Bobby Burgess ed. Lorraine Santoli & Bob McLain
Theme Park Press, June 2014
140 pages, B/W Photos
Mouseketeer memoirs have been a rarity given the number of Mickey Mouse Club cast members and the nearly sixty years since the show's debut. Since Paul Petersen's 1977 mea culpa there have been, until now, only two published memoirs, those of Annette (1994) and Lonnie Burr (2009). With Ears & Bubbles Bobby Burgess joins this select group, presenting a breezy easy to read book that will be of much more interest to Welk fans than those looking for Mouseka-memories.
Bobby Burgess is not an introspective guy, or at least not as a writer. You don't really get a glimpse of his inner thoughts and feelings in this book, but you do get a sense of his delight in performing, meeting new people, and seeing new places. An atypical American male dancer, Bobby Burgess is tall with an athletic build more suited to the gridiron than the dance floor. He recounts his early introduction to dance at age four, generally giving the impression of a self-motivated performer, yet the sheer number of talent contests and local television amateur variety shows he did up to 1955 argues for an encouraging parent.
Almost all Mouseketeers have a "blind spot" when it comes to stage moms. They describe other Mouseketeers as having pushy or ambitious parents, but will bristle when asked if their own behaved the same way. Bobby is no exception. He repeats an anecdote about one such Mouseke-mom he first told to Jerry Bowles, noting with glee the child involved soon thereafter left the show. Yet a few pages earlier he had approvingly mentioned how his own mother used to "grease the wheels" by paying his agent extra money on top of the ten percent commission to get Bobby more gigs.
The book is beautifully proportioned among the many phases of Bobby's long career, from talent show whiz kid, to Mouseketeer, to cotillion star and freelancer, to his long run on The Lawrence Welk Show, and his later activities with Disney and Welk reunions. The style is a bit breathless, with exclamation points seeming to terminate every other sentence, and in the later part of the book his travelogue overwhelms any sense of coherent narration. The Welk Show memories dominate as they should, this by far being the major part of Bobby's professional dance experience, but the most entertaining part deals with the live performances at fairs and other venues.
Bobby Burgess has no hesitation about disclosing human failings among people he worked with, but only if the circumstances impacted a performance. He is not judgmental, but the reader gains a sense of how strongly he values the work ethics of his profession. He treats the habitual tardiness of Cissy King (who is the subject of the two funniest stories in the book) with as much seriousness as the inebriated state of one old-time bandleader.
There are a number of trivial errors in the parts relating to the Mickey Mouse Club and the Mouseketeers, most of which aren't worth recounting here. Bobby's memory has been described as "something of a tossed salad", an apt enough simile for a guy who has trouble keeping his Bonni and Bonnie straight. (And, no he doesn't enlighten us about the spitting incident reported in Jerry Bowles book). But as the reader goes through this book and realizes the incredible number of performances the author has given and the number of people he has worked with during his lifetime, it seems churlish to expect him to keep a clear memory for occasional dance partners from sixty years ago.
Bobby somewhat surprisingly writes his own introduction, surely a task that any one of his long-time Disney or Welk colleagues would have been willing to do. There are no notes, appendices, or index. There is an acknowledgements section, in which his primary editor and amanuensis Lorraine Santoli among others is thanked. And curiously, after presenting a 140 page autobiography, the book concludes with a paragraph called "About the Author".