The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show


Karen Pendleton         Aug 1, 1946


The Phoenix

Karen was an amateur at the show's start. A good singer and dancer, she made a big enough impression on the producers to make the Red Team for all three seasons. Karen was offered a contract continuation at the show's end, but her family decided against it. Much later in life, she overcame a near-fatal physical injury through courage and determination.

Background

Karen Anita Pendleton was born in Glendale and raised in North Hollywood, California. She was the youngest of three children, her sister Yvonne and brother Kent being many years older. Her father was a movie set builder, but Karen had no exposure to show business prior to the show. She took dancing lessons with Elaine Troy from age three, but had never even entered an amateur contest, let alone done professional work. She went to the audition with two other girls from her studio. Afterwards she was asked to sing; it perhaps helped that she recognized one of the judges, Jimmie Dodd, as the fellow who the week before sang at the First Presbyterian Church, which Karen and her family attended.

Performance

Karen's initial appeal lay in her slightly raspy singing voice (YouTube link) and wide-open eyes. She was a good dancer, but that part of her talent wasn't emphasized until the later seasons. For duets, Karen was matched with either Johnny Crawford, who was also a good singer, or with Cubby when no male solo was needed. Johnny was let go midway through the first season, so for the next two and a half years she and Cubby were singing partners.


Karen was very popular in the first season, receiving enough fan mail that she was given her own mini-series entitled Karen in Kartoonland. She narrated and starred in this four-part feature that explained how animation worked. In 1956 she was tapped to appear in the Disney movie Westward Ho, the Wagons, along with Cubby, Tommy, and Doreen. Karen had slightly more screen time than the others, but just as few lines.


Karen's friends on the set tended to be the girls her own age; she didn't really interact much with the older girls. In the third season, though she was friends with Linda Hughes, she undoubtedly lost some singing parts to her. The Mouseketeer production numbers gradually shifted focus to the teenage kids, leaving Karen with less screen time. She was given the job of introducing the Annette serial episodes, and shared the Mousekartoon introductions with Cubby. When the Rainbow Road to Oz was proposed, she was cast as Polychrome, and had a short song solo and some dancing parts in the Disneyland episode promoting that film project.

Aftermath

When the show ended, so did Karen's career. She and Cubby had been offered a contract extension, contingent upon both re-signing, but Karen's father decided against it. She never really liked acting, only dancing and singing, and she found going to auditions an ordeal. Public school was hard for her; she was sensitive and shy, and became a target for teasing about her Mouseketeer days. She continued to work on her dancing with Elaine Troy, and helped give lessons to newcomers at the latter's North Hollywood studio. In 1959, and again in 1960, she went on the Mouseketeer tours of Australia organized by Jimmie Dodd. At odd intervals she would appear in the fan magazines, invited to a birthday bash for Cheryl, or a magazine-sponsored Mouseketeer reunion party.

Though Karen and Cubby were never romantically involved, she did go out for a while with Johnny Crawford, and in 1969 appeared on The Dating Game, where she picked Bobby Burgess as her date after recognizing his voice. After high school, Karen went to college for a while, then quit and started working at May department store as a sales clerk. She had some embarrassing encounters with folks she knew from the show, including Cheryl Holdridge, then the wealthy wife of Lance Reventlow, and with Annette's mother. She later went to work for Prudential, again as a clerk. Karen married Mike DeLaurer, a lawyer and a Marine veteran of Vietnam, in 1970. They had a daughter in 1973, but later divorced.

In 1983 Karen was in an automobile accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. An event that destroyed a dancer may have been the genesis of a new Karen. She'd always lacked confidence; now, perhaps born of frustration and anger, she forced herself to complete college, earning first a B.A., then a Master of Science degree, in Psychology, while continuing to raise her daughter. She took a full-time job at a shelter for battered women, and testified at government hearings on problems facing the handicapped. In the late 1990's she served on the Board for the California Association of the Physically Handicapped (now known as Californians for Disability Rights), and is now director of the Center for Independent Living in her city. In 2004 she appeared on the Disney Treasures DVD interview conducted by Leonard Maltin with several other Mouseketeers, and in 2005 took part in the 50th Anniversary Celebration for the Mickey Mouse Club. For a Mouse, she certainly has more than a bit of the Lion in her.

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