The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show


Jonathan Lucas           (1920-1991) Photo courtesy of Johnna Murray

Guest Star Day Director

Jonathan Lucas started as a Broadway dancer and actor under the name Louis Aco, changed names early on in his career, won an Obie award, then branched out to television and films. In the fifties he began alternating between performing and doing choreography and directing, both of which latter skills he employed on the Mickey Mouse Club as Guest Star Day director for the first season.

Background

Born Lucas T. Giarraputo in Sherman, Texas on Aug 14, 1920 (some sources say 1922), he spent his early childhood in nearby Denison. His Italian-born father, also Lucas Giarraputo, had been trained as a stonemason in his native land, but had to work in a candy store to support himself during his early years in America. His mother Florence was from Texas; he had one older sister, Ella. By 1930, the family had relocated to Dallas, where his father became a building contractor. Lucas evidently received his early dance training in Dallas. During WWII he moved to New York City, where he found work on and off Broadway as a dancer and bit player under the name Lucas Aco (his paternal grandmother's maiden name). He performed in the short-lived A Lady Says Yes, the more successful Billion Dollar Baby, played six bit parts in Around the World, then had a two-year run in Finian's Rainbow.

With Small Wonder in September 1948, he changed his stage name to Jonathan Lucas, which he would use for the rest of his life. His roles now included singing as well as dancing, for Touch and Go and a revival of Of Thee I Sing. Jonathan made his film debut in 1951, as a dancer in Happy Go Lovely. He worked as a choreographer for the television show Celebrity Time in 1952. With the Broadway production of The Golden Apple in the Spring of 1954, he obtained co-star billing playing the role of Paris, for which he won an Obie. Despite this success, he would leave Broadway for five years to work in Los Angeles, perhaps because he could feel the focal point of energy in the entertainment world shifting to television. He began appearing as a dancer on The Colgate Comedy Hour in the summer of 1954, and from there jumped to Disney in late Spring of 1955.

Contribution

Jonathan was hired to direct, and likely to choreograph where necessary, the Guest Star Day segments for the first season of the show. This did not include the daily opening song and roll call, which were done by Dik Darley. The hurriedly-written storylines for the first season had skimped over the Guest Star Day and Circus Day shows, as the producers couldn't be sure which acts would be available. Lucas and his Circus Day counterpart, William Beaudine Sr, sometimes had to improvise actions and dialogue to frame the performances, a very different situation from the later seasons where everything was scripted well in advance.

The guest stars were a diverse group of entertainers. Some were talented performers with established acts, who could be allowed to simply do their thing, using the Mouseketeers as just an audience. Others, however, were employed by Disney as voice-over artists or live-action bit players, and would not have otherwise gotten a TV guest star gig. They were there to cross-promote Disney films or Disneyland attractions, and their inherent entertainment potential as a solo act was mixed. For them, a skit would be devised, using the Mouseketeers as both live audience and comic relief.

Jonathan may have left the MMC before the first season filming ended, for a few Guest Star shows (Morey Amsterdam, the Firehouse 5+2) were credited to Dik Darley. He doesn't seem to have made any impression on the Red Team Mouseketeers; none of them have mentioned him in interviews, but then his primary charges would have been the Blue and White Team kids.

Aftermath

Jonathan evidently left the MMC to work as a choreographer for The Martha Raye Show for the 1955-56 television season. He later choreographed The Paul Winchell Show, then returned to Broadway in March 1959. A three-month run choreographing First Impressions was followed in September 1960 by the dual role of choreographer-director for Vintage '60. He then performed a lead role in a touring company production of Carnival.

During the sixties Lucas worked as a choreographer for The Dean Martin Show, and directed some of the associated celebrity roasts done by the same production company. He also directed, under a pseudonym, some early seventies films which may be charitably described as avant-garde. He also staged live performance material for the Mandrells and John Travolta, among others.

An ardent animal-lover, Lucas raised a Great Dane named Blue, who performed on television shows during the late seventies and early eighties. He volunteered with Loretta Swit's Wildlife Waystation and other charities devoted to animal welfare. His own personal symbol was another animal, the lion (his astrological sign). Throughout his life, he collected statues and other representations of lions that he used to decorate his Hollywood Hills home. He died from complications arising from a knee infection on February 5, 1991.

Some information and the photos on this page come courtesy of Johnna Murray

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