The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show


Lonnie Burr     (May 31, 1943)


The Intellectual

Author, poet, playwright, as well as performer, Lonnie graduated from high school at fourteen, and holds a master's degree from UCLA. A seasoned industry professional at the show's start, he was a lead performer on the Red Team for all three years. Due to a rehearsal accident he was not part of the filming for third season Roll Call and Alma Mater.

Background

Born Leonard Burr Babin in Dayton, Kentucky (just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati), his parents were a former vaudeville team known as Dot and Dash. Dot was Dorothy Burr, a native of nearby Covington, where her parents owned a restaurant. She later became Lonnie's agent. Dash was Howard Babin, who became a truck driver when their performing days ended. They brought Lonnie to Hollywood when he was three, where he was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. He started dance lessons with Louis da Pron, and later numbered Willie Covan and Dee Blacker, whom he considered his favorite, among his instructors. He was soon performing with a dance partner for live shows and on local television.

By age five he had done his first national television performance, and the following year appeared in his first film. He had an occasional role on The Ruggles television show, had the lead child's role on the NBC radio soap Dr. Paul, and performed live at the Pasadena Playhouse. By age eight Lonnie was doing lead performances, on television as a guest star in an episode of Range Rider titled "The Holy Terror", and on the stage in The Strawberry Circle. All told, he was in at least seven films prior to the show, including A Yank in Korea (1951), Hans Christian Anderson (1952), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and Apache (1954), while on the small screen he did commercials for Space Patrol and The Lone Ranger.

Lonnie appeared a dozen times on TV's Colgate Comedy Hour, on which Sharon Baird also featured. Like Sharon, the majority of Lonnie's appearences were on the episodes hosted by Eddie Cantor. He also did an episode of Father Knows Best. Lonnie originally received a call to read for the part of "Marty" for The Adventures of Spin and Marty. He didn't get the part, and after learning the Mouseketeers would only be getting guild minimum ($185 per week), decided not to try out. However, he was approached soon after to do a recording at Capitol Records. There he was spotted by Jimmie Dodd, who convinced the show's producers to persuade his agent to have him try out. Lonnie was given a private audition in the Disney Studio Animation building, at which Bill Walsh, Jimmie, and Hal Adelquist were in attendance.

Performance

Lonnie was one of the two best male all-around performers, so its no surprise he was used extensively in all three seasons. His dancing skills were technically the best, however, he didn't have a unique style. His singing was good, though his voice was a bit husky, and the other kids called him "The Velvet Smog", a takeoff on singer Mel Torme's handle. Lonnie was used extensively in the earliest Fun with Music Day numbers, before the kids were organized into the color-coded teams, but in a minor casting mystery was absent from Talent Roundup Days during the first season, his place being taken by Mark Sutherland.


Though an excellent actor, he wasn't tapped for feature roles in any of the serials (save for brief cameos in Adventure in Dairyland), but was allowed to ad-lib in the skits. He later said this frustrated him, as he had already acted in many films. But it was his dancing skills that tied him to the production numbers; the producers could get any number of male actors, but only Lonnie and Bobby Burgess really shone while dancing.


Lonnie was a smart, confident kid, and that persona projected to the audience. He was the only male Mouseketeer that kids at home considered cool. Annette also felt this way about him, and the two were an item (a real couple, not one of the studio arranged matches) for a brief time. One of the few second season examples of Lonnie and Sharon's dancing available on video or DVD is on Volume 7 of the Disney VHS tapes. They and Bobby do a neat little tap routine for the full version of the Guest Star Day opening that is usually cut out from the syndicated shows.


When the third season Roll Call and Alma Mater were filmed, Lonnie was not able to appear on camera, due to an injury. As he recounts it:

  "I did not appear in the third year roll call because of an accident that occured in rehearsal that took off the skin on my cheek; it was camera noticable and about the size of a silver dollar. They added a line to explain it for my introduction of the guests with Jimmie on Talent Roundup that week, but decided that they could not have one Mouseketeer with a mouseka-booboo for the five days a week opening/roll call and closing song (alma mater) for an entire season - it never occured to anyone we would rerun in the '60s, '70s, '80s and then '95-'02 on Vault Disney (Disney Channel)".  

Despite the reported antipathy between him and director Sidney Miller, Lonnie performed in nearly every third season skit, and also took part in the Disneyland episode that featured several numbers from the proposed Rainbow Road to Oz. Lonnie has stated that he and Sid Miller always behaved professionally towards each other, on the set and in rehearsal:

  "I was always on time, always knew my lines, marks, dance steps, lyrics, etc. and was polite and pleasant about it all - even when I thought the material or choreography was not up to the best standards".  

Aftermath

When the Mouseketeer tours to Australia were organized in May 1959, and again in Spring 1960, Lonnie was asked to take part, but declined. Lonnie attended Hollywood Professional School, where he got his high school diploma at fourteen. He then attended San Fernando Valley College, and later received a Masters in Theatre Arts from UCLA. His professional career revolved around the stage, television, and writing for many years, as he alternated between New York and Los Angeles. He started doing films again in 1968, and worked fairly consistently up to the mid-nineties.

Lonnie helped with some of the creative work for the televised 1980 Mouseketeer reunion, but due to strike-related delays and a performing commitment as the lead in a Las Vegas production of George M, ended up missing the big tap number in the show. His creative efforts go beyond choreography; Lonnie has written two books, several plays, and had many poems published and later collected into an anthology.

Lonnie has his own web site, on which visitors can learn about the details of his long pre- and post-MMC careers. He also has given more published interviews than anyone but Annette on the subject of the Mickey Mouse Club, in most of which he has been quite frank. You can read some of them in the books listed in the Media section, particularly his 2009 memoir, Confessions of an Accidental Mouseketeer. This sometimes brutally candid work has engendered more than a bit of controversary since it was published.

Now a resident of Oregon with his wife Diane Dickey, a university administrator, Lonnie maintains an active interest in politics, bird watching, and can still give a decent rendition of the Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater when called upon to do so.

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