The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show


Dennis Day               (Jul 12, 1942)

Not Your Father's Irish Tenor

Dennis started on the Blue Team, made the Red Team later in the first season, and was carried over to the next season, but never could get much solo camera time from the directors. He was let go after the second season.

Background

Dennis was born in Las Vegas, Nevada, to a family with no show business background. He is no relation to the Dennis Day who sang on The Jack Benny Show and other fifties television programs (and anyway, that guy's name was really Owen Patrick McNulty). He and his sister took dance lessons from an early age, specializing in tap. Dennis had done some television work and a Jimmy Cagney drama from Warner Brothers, A Lion Is In The Streets (1953), before auditioning for the club.

Dennis and his sister tried out for the club together, doing a dance routine that fell apart midway due to the piano player's mistake. The casting folks were so impressed at Dennis stopping the audition and sorting out the music arrangement with the piano player, they hired him on the spot, without ascertaining his singing ability.

Performance

Dennis started on either the Blue or White Team when first hired in May 1955. As one of the first Mouseketeers, he spent time modeling prototype costumes for the show. Despite his self-proclaimed lack of musical talent, he did sing solo for a Mousekartoon introduction. He seems to have made the Red Team by mid-season in the first year, and was featured in Roll Call and Alma Mater for the second season.


Dennis revealed in an interview that the Mouseketeers were paired up, boy-girl, by the studio for publicity purposes. He and Cheryl Holdridge were assigned to each other, but never got along. Dennis had a problem smiling for close-ups; he had to do numerous retakes that left his mouth feeling stretched out of shape. Cheryl, however, had a perfect smile and always cinched her close-ups in one take. This didn't endear her to him.


His dancing skills ensured Dennis a spot in some of the second season's best musical numbers, including 1925, Boys vs Girls Basketball, and the jitterbug extravaganza of Cliff Edwards guest star day. One of his more prominent roles was to simply sit and play the banjo while Doreen sang Banjo Joe. Sometime during the second season Dennis was moved off the Red Team for a while, which he later said left him feeling crushed. He regained his spot, but was dropped along with all the second season replacements in September 1956.

Aftermath

Dennis is a fairly resourceful guy who found a variety of ways to stay in and around the fringes of show business for many years. He taught drama and dance, produced live events for public and private sector institutions, did commercials, wrote a dance manual, directed stage musicals, and managed a head shop.

In 1971, Amie Hill, a free-lance writer, persuaded him to do an interview with her for the Rolling Stone. The resulting article, though mild reading today, was a jolt to the image of the Mickey Mouse Club and a shock to the studio publicity department.

Besides confessing to being stoned during the 1968 Mouseketeer reunion for Mickey's 40th birthday celebration, Dennis also gave a very honest picture of what it was like being a Mouseketeer. He wasn't negative or bitter about it, but he did describe the pressures involved, including how the kids were organized into color-coded teams that were used to ensure compliance from parents and performers alike. He gave a picture of social mores on the set that is at odds with Annette's 1994 memoir, but the article would serve as the basic cornerstone for authors in the seventies, like Jerry Bowles and Paul Petersen. The article is ignored in the official Disney books on the club, by Keith Keller and Lorraine Santoli.

Amie Hill also wrote that Dennis was openly bisexual, perhaps the greatest shock of all. Though there were gay employees at the studio, and a couple of other Mouseketeers were also homosexual, Dennis was the first to publicly admit to it. By 1977, he had moved to San Francisco, where he proclaimed himself to be fully gay. He continued to produce live celebrations and events, and in 1980, took part in the televised 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Mickey Mouse Club.

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