Dallas Johann         (June 15, 1944)
The Vanishing Mouseketeer
Dallas is the closest thing the Mickey Mouse Club has to an urban legend. He was the first Mouseketeer hired, and despite Paul Petersen's later claim, the first fired. His tenure as a performer on the show spanned no more than a few weeks, but did include at least four on-camera musical numbers.
Dallas D. Johann was born June 15, 1944, in Madison, Wisconsin. His father worked in the petroleum industry. The family, including older brothers John Lee and Paris, relocated to West Covina, California that same year. All three brothers took dancing lessons at Burch Mann's University of Dance in nearby Alhambra, and apparently John and Dallas tried out for the Mickey Mouse Club open audition in April 1955. Dallas' dancing was good, but his shyness coupled with a slight speech impediment caused him to burst into tears when the casting agents asked him to sing. Despite this drawback he was selected for a further tryout.
As each Mouseketeer was hired, their parents were warned that the initial tryout period of two-three weeks would determine the child's suitability for television work. After that tryout period, a formal contract with six-month options would be signed by the studio and the performer. Ten-year old Dallas was fine as a silent dancer. Mary Espinosa told a fan many years later that Dallas was part of her first group on the show, before the color-coded teams were formed. Their parents were in the same carpool, along with Billie Beanblossom's, for taking the kids to the studio. They all appeared on camera together for Animals and Clowns, Pussy Cat Polka, Sho-Jo-Ji, and Old Betsy.1 But Dallas couldn't speak or sing on camera; instead he cried, and so the producers dismissed him.2 Dallas told interviewer Jeff Byrd in 2007 that Jimmie Dodd himself gently broke the news to him.
Dallas was replaced by his twelve-year old brother John (who used his middle name Lee, because there was already a Mouseketeer named Johnny). Why? According to Dallas, John Lee was chosen to replace him to soften the blow to the family. Perhaps, but its also true that filming had begun and the producers were desperately short of boys who could dance.
Now, no official Disney book before 1998 mentioned this switcheroo, or even the very existence of Dallas Johann. The story was first told in Jerry Bowles 1976 book Forever Hold Your Banner High! The book includes a photo of Dallas in his cowboy costume from the Old Betsy number, credited to him. Lonnie Burr told author Jeff Rovin in 1975 that a Mouseketeer was fired for crying on-camera, only he said it was Paul Petersen. Paul, in his 1977 book about the club, apparently didn't know about Dallas, hence his claim to be the first ex-Mouseketeer.3
Though no longer in the cast, Dallas got to hang around Disneyland for free while his older brother performed in the Mickey Mouse Club Circus. Dallas was still reticent in public, even after a minor operation fixed the physical cause of his speech impediment. He and brother John continued dance lessons with Burch Mann, eventually joining her professional company Ballet America (later American Folk Ballet). Not until his senior year at West Covina High School did Dallas overcome his shyness about public speaking. He credits two teachers and a principal, who compelled him to give speeches in every class that year.
After high school Dallas began dancing and acting in civic stage productions in Pasadena and San Gabriel, being joined in many of them by brother Paris. As he became known in the Los Angeles area, casting directors for movie musicals began hiring him for dancing parts. The years 1963-64 saw him appear in two Elvis movies Kissin' Cousins and Viva Las Vegas, and return to Disney as one of the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins. His association with Ann-Margaret and Julie Andrews in these films also earned him some television spots as their dancing partner.
In the late sixties and early seventies Dallas appeared on Broadway as a performer in several stage musicals, including Maggie Flynn, The Rothchilds, The Happy Time, and a revival of The Pajama Game. Later in the seventies he became a director in off-Broadway and regional theater productions. To supplement the sometimes erratic theater income, Dallas studied and qualified as a tax accountant, specializing in show business performers. Dallas and his wife Susan, a professional photographer, have been married for forty years. They have two grown sons and now reside in western North Carolina, where Dallas continues to be active in community theater.
1. Thanks to Rick from Dallas, Texas for this information and pointing out Dallas Johann in these numbers.
2. Dallas was reportedly offered $250 a week by mistake; all other Mouseketeers were receiving only $185 per week, another reason perhaps why the producers didn't want to sign him.
3. In 1998 Disney archivist Dave Smith included Dallas in his Disney A to Z encyclopedia, saying he was hired and quickly fired, and replaced by his brother. In 2004, the Disney Treasures DVD for the Mickey Mouse Club's first week included a short, very early clip of the original Mouseketeers from which the above photo was taken.