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.
2. ASSESSMENT OF THE MOUSEKETEER TEAMS
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
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):
Animals and Clowns
Sho Jo Ji
Be Sure You’re Right
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.
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.
3. CREATION OF THE RED TEAM (ROLL CALL TEAM) AS COMMONLY REMEMBERED, AND THE WHITE TEAM
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 performed the following FWM numbers (in broadcast order):
The Humphry Hop
Roy at the Dike
Mickey Mouse Mambo
A Cowboy Needs a Horse
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
Mixed Up Mother Goose (with Mary E., Bronson, Mark)
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.
4. CONCLUSION: THERE WERE ALWAYS A RED AND BLUE TEAM, WITH A WHITE TEAM COMING AND GOING IN MID-SEASON
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.
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.