The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show


John Lee Johann   (Dec 23, 1942)


John Lee

A Little League all-star who could also tap dance, John was the first ever replacement Mouseketeer, taking over from his brother during season one. After leaving the show, he became a professional dancer and stage actor.

Background

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, John and his little brother Dallas Johann came to Los Angeles with their parents after WWII. The boys took dancing lessons, possibly at Burch Mann's University of Dance in Alhambra. John was sports-minded, playing Little League baseball where he made the all-star squad. He enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, and skating. Somewhat unusually for a boy in the fifties, he also liked to bake cakes and brownies. He had a creative side too, putting on puppet shows for little kids in the neighborhood. For hobbies, he played chess, drew pictures, and built models. He told the Disney publicity folks that he wanted to be either an actor or a baseball player when he grew up.

When Walt Disney told producer Bill Walsh to begin auditioning kids for the Mickey Mouse Club, Bill immediately called Burch Mann. She scouted her own students to begin with, and it's likely John and his brother Dallas were among them, for Dallas was the first Mouseketeer hired. John also had auditioned, but didn't make the cut immediately. However, in mid-May 1955 events transpired that resulted in John taking his brother's place in the line-up.

Performance

There was already a Mouseketeer named Johnny, so John used "Lee" on the show, the only time he ever went by his middle name. (It didn't seem to bother anyone that there were two girls named "Mary"). Even though he joined the cast only a few weeks behind the other kids, John found himself shut out of the Red Team, a fate common to nearly all future replacement mice. He was a good dancer, but seldom got the chance to show it. His singing was likely good as well, to judge by his future career, but again, he never seemed to have a solo on the show.


There's very little material available on DVD or video for the Mickey Mouse Club that includes John. He doesn't show up in many publicity photos or production stills either, hence the poor quality images offered here. The length of his time on the show is also unknown to me, though somewhere between three to six months seems likely. Being a replacement, it's possible that John was the first Mouseketeer given a one-year contract, as opposed to the seven-year contracts offered to the original twenty-four. The major difference between them was the option periods, which came around every thirteen weeks for the replacements, as opposed to six months for the original kids. This was the point at which a performer could be dropped (or decline to re-sign).

Aftermath

After leaving the MMC, John and his brother continued studying dance with Burch Mann, eventually joining her Ballet America professional troupe, later known as the American Folk Ballet, which is still in existence today. John performed with the troupe on national tours during the early and mid-sixties, but may have left it by the time it started appearing on television and doing overseas tours.

John moved to New York City in the mid-sixties. He played a lead role in an off-Broadway (West 43rd) production called Autumn's Here in late 1966. He was in a short-lived Broadway musical Here's Where I Belong in 1968, then was the stage manager and an understudy for another Broadway production, 70 Girls, 70 in early 1971. In late 1971 he joined the cast of the memorable Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical Follies for six months. He later appeared in the musical The Rothchilds.

John granted an interview to Jerry Bowles in 1974, relating the story of Dallas' brief stint on the MMC, and providing a couple of wry anecdotes about life on the set. John and his wife continue to reside in New York, which is perhaps why he hasn't taken part in any Mouseketeer reunion activities.

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