The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this essay are solely those of it's author, Randall Nakashima


The First Season of the MMC (S1) established the popularity of the show and an order of popularity among the Mouseketeers. It also put in place the Color-Team structure. To date, very little of the S1 material has been available for viewing. After having spent several months viewing as many of the S1 Fun with Music (FWM) numbers as are available at the UCLA Film Archive, I now have a feel for how these teams were structured.


Based on my viewing, I believe that the Mice were divided in teams for ease of organization almost since the beginning of the show. There was always a Red (first-string) Team, the makeup of which changed during the course of S1.

A. The Early Red Team

I have been aware of this photograph for sixty years. It was on the cover of an LP I have owned since I was four and appears to be the tenth MMC photograph taken. I had assumed it was an assembly of everyone who was available that day. After reviewing the casts of the S1 FWM numbers, I believe that this was actually the first Red Team. Sort of a Proto-Red Team or an Early Red Team.

This group consisted of:
(Boys) Don, Bobby, Dennis, Mark, Cubby, Mike; and
(Girls) Bonni, Doreen, Darlene, Sharon, Karen and Bronson.

This Early Red Team as a group, or through its members, took part in the following early numbers, here ordered by broadcast date:
The Shoe Song #1
Old MacDonald #1
Old MacDonald Had a Tree (#2)
The Little Cow (#1, Green Grass Grows)
Simple Simon #1
I Am Not Now nor Ever Have Been in Love

This group did not remain static and changed during the course of S1. Incidentally, Bonni Kern confirmed that this was the first discrete team in a Facebook communication with me.

B. The Blue (Pussycat Polka) Team

Another team was in simultaneous operation which I used to call the Pussycat Polka Team and I now call the Blue Team. The Blue Team consisted of: (Girls) Judy, Billie, Nancy, Mary Espinosa; and (Boys) Dallas and Lonnie. [Note: I previously believed this was the White Team until I was told otherwise by Bonni Kern]

This group also appeared in some of the earliest numbers, to include (in order of broadcast date):

Pussycat Polka
Animals and Clowns
Old Betsy
Sho Jo Ji
Be Sure You’re Right

I acknowledge that broadcast date is not a foolproof indicator of production date. It only serves to give a rough idea of the time in S1 when a number was filmed. For example, the first number broadcast, The Friendly Farmers, was not filmed until July 1955 or later. Similarly, FWM numbers only involve one day of the week and do not reflect a Mouseketeer’s entire schedule.

I would estimate that five musical numbers for the Blue Team and eight for the Early Red Team, along with other filming duties, would largely fill the time period from late May through June, prior to preparation for the Disneyland debut in July.

This raises the question of what the Mice not listed were doing. This would include: Tommy, Johnny, Paul, Mary Sartori and Mickey Jr. There were no musical numbers done by the remaining Mice as a team per se, and Johnny is all but absent from any of the early musical numbers or Guest Star Days (GSD) or Circus Days (CD) as far as I can tell. I suspect that anyone who was not on the Red Team was on the Blue Team, but only the Blue Team Mice in Pussycat Polka did musical numbers. Also, there could have been gaps in the times each individual Mouse started.

[Addendum: I now know from Nancy Abbate that Mary Sartori joined the Mouseketeers after rehearsal and production had already commenced. Similarly, I can tell that Ron Steiner was the last to join, based on group photographs. I also realize that these miscellaneous Mice were used as “filler” in some of the ensemble numbers such as The Pencil Song and Let’s Have Fun with Music.]

I don’t consider the remaining Mice so much a separate team as a group of remainders who were incorporated with the other Mice according to need. Tommy would take part in a number of GSDs and FWM Days when a male vocalist was needed. Mary Sartori seemed relegated to early ACH Days (Mousekeriddle, What Am I?). Annette was one of the last to arrive and I believe she was the catalyst for change.


Nancy told me that Burch Mann took the “Red Team” to her studio for a two-week period to work on the Red Team numbers (undoubtedly the Roll Calls) and she was not included. She was later instructed to catch up as best she could. She mentioned that Jimmie or a staffer told her, “don’t worry Nancy, you’re in.” This suggests that the Mouseketeers knew the Producers were segregating the teams into a group that would receive more attention. Nancy was probably needed for the Blue Team numbers at the time. I expect that Lonnie was similarly left out of these training sessions while he worked with the Blue Team, and similarly told to catch up as best he could.

A. The Red (Roll Call) Team

As noted, Annette was a late comer, and as Mr. Disney’s most favored Mouse, had to be part of the A-team. Lonnie was so advanced that he couldn’t be kept out. Thus, I think that the Early Red Team was ultimately adjusted around July 17 to incorporate the most talented and/or the most attractive Mice in a group to be specially featured in Roll Call and Talent Round-up Day (TRU). The led to the creation of the Red Team as commonly seen in S1 Roll Calls and most of the commonly circulated photos.

So, the Early Red Team was adjusted: Annette was in, obviously. Nancy was photogenic and striking, so she was in. Bonni was a great dancer and an attractive girl, but as the oldest Mouse, was quite clearly a developing adolescent, so she was out. Dennis was a good dancer, but could not compare to Lonnie in overall talent, so he was out. Mark was generally lost so he was out. Bronson was a much better dancer than Karen, but Karen paired well with Cubby, so Bronson was out.

The more questionable call is why put Johnny on the Red Team? He was cute, and an adequate singer, but a non-dancer. It was probably hoped that his acting could make up for his shortcomings, but after weeks of running around his backhand by having him do introductions, the Producers cut the knot. In a way, I think the Producers set Johnny up to fail. Dennis, talent-wise, probably would have fared better in his place although, bluntly, he was not as cute.

Thus, the Red Team as we know it, was created when Annette, Nancy, Lonnie and Johnny were added to the Early Red Team, and the others moved to another team.

By mid-season, the Red Team as we know it, would be taking the lead in the FWM numbers, to include:

Orange in the Orchard (Green Grass Grows #2)
Shoe Song #2
Simple Simon #2
I’m a British Grenadier (I suspect Bronson was added when Karen was making Karen in Kartoonland)
Hi! to You
Variations on a Very Familiar Theme (with Bonni)
Ten Little Indians
Cooking with Minnie Mouse

It may be noted that the numbers which had a # 2 appellation began as, and continued to be, Red Team numbers. Only the Team changed.

Eventually of course, anyone who was not on the Red Team was on the Blue Team: Dickey, Ronnie, etc. Ron Steiner told me that he was on the Blue Team, so by the time he arrived in August, the primacy of the Red Team had been established. The loss of Lonnie and Nancy effectively meant the end of the Blue team doing musical numbers.

B. The White (Friendly Farmers) Team

We know that the White Team only existed in S1 and was disbanded by Season’s end due to declining need and a declining number of Mice. Although I originally believed that the Pussycat Polka Team was the White Team, Bonni was kind enough to inform me that the Friendly Farmers group was actually the White Team.

The White Team consisted of: (Girls) Bonni, Bronson, Mary S.; and (Boys) Dennis, Lonnie, Tim. Tim was shortly replaced by Mark and Lonnie eventually replaced by Lee in Roy at the Dike.

The White Team performed the following FWM numbers (in broadcast order):

The Friendly Farmers
The Humphry Hop
Roy at the Dike
Mickey Mouse Mambo
A Cowboy Needs a Horse
Get Busy
Roy, Roy Quick on the Draw
The Village Blacksmith

Performance-wise, this was a very strong team, particularly at dance, with the notable exception of Tim Rooney. Although I had assumed that this was an early group due to the fact that Friendly Farmers appeared in the first show, these numbers were done in mid-season, given that Tim replaced Paul Peterson who was a Mouseketeer at least through July 17.

So, why form a White Team? One reason may have been to make better use of Mary Sartori who could sing and dance and was easy on the eyes. Another reason may have been to relieve some pressure on the Red Team which had its own disadvantages with three young boys. The more probable reason could be to keep the production schedule on track per Disney’s commitment to ABC Television.

The White Team did do two excellent numbers (Mambo and Blacksmith), four average, to good numbers (Farmers, Roy at the Dike, Roy Roy, and Get Busy) and the experimental A Cowboy Needs a Horse, which seemed like a dry run for the animated short.

Humphry Hop is a curiosity. I originally assumed that this was a Red Team number with Bobby as the tallest, wild-dancing bear; however, both Lonnie and Bonni claim to have been in the number, with Bonni stating she was the tall bear at the right. Indeed, she says she almost passed out from the exertion. Indeed, that bear was doing a lot of dancing. I personally think she and Lonnie switched the lead: no one could tell when everyone is wearing a bear outfit. Finally, one of the two smaller bears is clueless and has to be led by the other. Sounds like Bronson and Tim.

In the four numbers he was in, Tim Rooney brought nothing to the table in terms of ability, and his weaknesses had to be covered by the other members and the production. For example, in Get Busy Lonnie has to guide the completely lost Tim to his mark for the final shot, and essentially saves the take. In Farmers, Bronson and Tim drop out when the others begin their tap.

My personal belief is that the Rooney boys were hired as a matter of convenience, as they could drive in every morning with their stepfather Buddy Baker, who would serve as their guardian on premises. If they didn’t work out (as was the case) they could be terminated without incident. My personal belief is that the ink [Ed.: paint] incident was either a fabrication or exaggerated to explain why both of them were released at the same time.

Finally, Bonni has told me that Burch Mann was disappointed that she did not make the Red Team, but nevertheless used her whenever she could. This would explain Bonni’s presence in Mousekedance, the Firehouse Five GSD and Variations on a Very Familiar Theme.

C. How Did Lonnie Manage to be on Three Teams?

The presence of Lonnie on the Red Team raises a logistics issue: how did Lonnie appear on the Red Team and also on the White and Blue Teams?

I believe the answer is: not without difficulty. A question that always arises is why Mark Sutherland replaces Lonnie in the S1 Talent Roundup Roll Call and a number of shows? An answer could be to allow Lonnie more time to work with the White Team. Another answer could be that Lonnie’s experience and professionalism made him a quick study in learning new dances and routines, so he could move between Red, Blue and White Team numbers with relative ease.

Additionally, Lonnie’s involvement with the White Team wanes during the course of the season, to the point that he only gives the Introduction in A Cowboy Needs a Horse and is replaced by Lee in Roy at the Dike. Just the same, he appears with the White Team (including Mark) in at least one Circus Day performance with acrobat Bill Henry & Son. This may have been the result of a tight shooting schedule. Bonni Kern has mentioned that the Henry act was the last time the Mice actually participated with the Circus performers—for their own safety!

As a side note, Lonnie denies that there was ever a team structure. However, Judy, Nancy and Mary Espinosa all freely referenced the Blue Team in conversation. I think the producers kept the fact that he was in three teams from Lonnie and his mother to keep them from demanding a raise.

D. The Later Red Team

It is fairly well known that Nancy and Johnny left the MMC before the end of S1. These two were apparently replaced by Judy and Tommy, respectively, for the final S1 FWM numbers. Don purportedly stepped down to the Blue Team and was replaced by Dennis. Additionally, Mary Sartori replaced Darlene in the final version of the Alma Mater.

This Later version of the Red Team, did the following FWM numbers, again ordered by broadcast date, none of which involved very complicated dancing:

Mixed Up Mother Goose (with Mary E., Bronson, Mark)
Johnny Appleseed
Song of the South (with Judy and Johnny, possibly his last appearance)
Animal Alphabet (with Ronnie)

In addition to having minimal dancing, all of these numbers consisted of primarily singing, with minimal props or storyline, suggesting that they were done to fulfill Disney’s commitment to ABC Television to provide a minimum number of episodes.


My observations are that S1 did not begin with three teams. At the very beginning, there was an Early Red Team, and an alternate Blue Team. At some later date, probably in the early summer, Annette, Nancy, Johnny and possibly Lonnie were added to the Early Red Team, creating the Red Team seen at Roll Call. Gone from the Early Red Team to make room were Bonni, Bronson and Dennis, who formed a new White Team with Mary Sartori and the newly hired Tim Rooney. Lonnie was also part of this group and joined the group for at least seven FWM numbers.

As originally staffed, the White Team was a fairly strong performance group, with the exception of Tim Rooney. Lonnie’s presence provided for some fairly strong dance numbers such as MM Mambo, Humphry Hop and The Village Blacksmith. Tim’s performance did not appreciably improve after four numbers and he was replaced by Mark Sutherland in Blacksmith. As the Season progressed, Lonnie was replaced by Lee Johan in Roy at the Dike.

Logistically, it is still unknown how Lonnie managed to be on Red and White Teams at once, except, as noted, he was a quick study. However, by the time the GSD with Firehouse Five Plus Two was filmed, the Mice present appear to be a merger of Red and White Teams. Lee is present among the 17 Mice used, and so one imagines Lonnie was firmly ensconced as a Red Team member at this time.

Ultimately, after Nancy and Johnny left, and the production workload dwindled such that the White Team was no longer need for musical numbers, and its members were incorporated into the Blue Team for miscellaneous GSD, CD numbers, as well as MouseKartoon introductions. Concurrently, the Late Red Team, adding Judy, Tommy and possibly Dennis and Mary S., handled the remaining few, simple FWM productions.

I acknowledge that this analysis is incomplete without Production Schedules to document the involvement of the Mice on GSD, ACH and CD on a day by day basis. The Schedules are not available and making further hypotheses without them would be only speculation.

--- Randall Nakashima

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