The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show

Lost Episodes: The 1956 Nominating Convention Newsreel Specials

"Lost Episodes" will be an irregular series highlighting shows from the Mickey Mouse Club's first two seasons that for one reason or another were only broadcast once. The shows are not truly lost, as the 35mm film masters are presumably archived by Disney. However, photos and information about the shows are so rare as to render them "lost" to general knowledge.

The publicity shot below is a well-known image from late July 1956. It shows most of the second season mouseketeers helping Karen and Margene celebrate their birthdays. Also present, albeit in street clothes, is Judy Harriet who had left the show after the MMC Circus folded its tent in January. So what was Judy doing back at the studio?

When ABC President Robert Kintner first asked Walt Disney to produce the Mickey Mouse Club he wanted news and educational features to be a part of the show's content. Producers Bill Walsh and Hal Adelquist obliged with the Newsreel portion of the show. Most daily newsreels contained four to six brief snippets about different subjects, but an occasional newsreel special would be devoted to a single topic.

Since 1956 was a presidential election year someone came up with the idea of sending one or more kids to the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions to help other kids understand what they were about and how they worked. The decision to do this must have been made fairly late, for studio publicity releases only started appearing during the first week of August. The limited time available to get ready likely influenced the choice of kids.

Most second season mice and serial actors were committed to other projects, but new discovery Tommy Kirk was available, having finished filming for the first Hardy Boys serial. And as the kids at home were still watching first season reruns, Judy Harriet would make a good choice to preserve the gender balance the MMC producers sought to maintain. The newsreel specials they made would replace the regular newsreel segment for three first season rerun episodes.

Walt Disney thought so much of Tom that he was already making plans to have him star in another serial to be called Young Davy Crockett. Despite press releases to this effect, the project never reached the filming stage. So Tommy Kirk's Disney television debut would actually be these newsreel specials, three months before broadcast of the Hardy Boys serial, and one of the few times he would wear mouseketeer gear.

Judy Harriet, though not retained under contract as a mouseketeer, was also well thought of at the studio for her composed on-camera demeanor and ability to work well with adult guest stars.

The first of the three newsreel specials was filmed at the Disney studio, and broadcast Friday, August 10th, 1956. It introduced Tommy Kirk to the viewing audience and had Judy and him review the 1952 nominating conventions. They also learned about party procedures and convention protocol.

For the next special the pair were flown from Burbank, along with their mothers and supporting crew, to Chicago for a week where the Democratic convention was to be held from August 13th to 17th at the International Amphitheatre.

Judy and Tom received press credentials from the Democratic National Committee which allowed them to report from the convention floor. ABC and Disney press releases made much of them being the two youngest (at 13 and 14 respectively) accredited correspondents for a presidential nominating convention.

No photos or newspaper articles are available to guide us as to how Tom and Judy's coverage proceeded. From a newspaper photo of the later Republican convention we can guess they did interview delegates on the Democratic convention floor. The actual running time for each special would have been eight minutes, allowing for commercials. Some of this time may have been filled with studio shot footage explaining the convention to the home audience.

The second special was broadcast Friday August 17th, while the convention was winding down. It is unlikely any live footage was included with the broadcast, rather the film editors probably spliced together reporting from earlier in the week along with a voiceover naming Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver as the candidates.

Upon the kids return from Chicago they were sent off to San Francisco, where the Republican National Convention was being held at the Cow Palace from August 23rd thru August 27th. There is even less information available about their activities at this convention, since for the press the novelty aspect had worn off.

The convention ran smoothly, re nominating then President Eisenhower to another term by near unanimous vote. Judy and Tom were shown in a newspaper photo interviewing delegates from New Hampshire on the convention floor.

There was one unexpected incident. A fringe party candidate named Herbert Holdridge turned up at the convention and began distributing on the floor pamphlets that contained scurrilous attacks on Eisenhower. Holdridge, the adoptive father of mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge, was swiftly ejected from the convention.

The third newsreel special was broadcast Friday, August 27th, replacing the original newsreel segment for that rerun show. Newsreels on topical subjects were generally not included in later syndication packages, so these three newsreel specials featuring Tommy Kirk and Judy Harriet were each broadcast once and never seen again.

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