He was born Thomas L. Mahoney on July 9, 1924 in St. Paul, Minnesota, the second youngest of nine children, to Bill and Mary Mahoney.
Tom's father was a yard master for the Northern Pacific Railway. Tom received his dance training in St. Paul.
In December 1955 Sidney Miller
was hired as the new director for the Mickey Mouse Club
. He seems to have been the one to bring Tom to Disney, and it's likely Tom worked with him earlier on The Donald O'Connor Show
and The Colgate Comedy Hour
After viewing the first season, Walt Disney appears to have had new director Sidney Miller, producer Bill Walsh, and the show's writers pitch the second season at twelve years and older, instead of the original age range of three to fourteen. With the change in target audience came a major change in choreography. The first season choreographer, Burch Mann, came out of a ballet and folk dance background. Her style of choreography emphasized non-verbal story-telling, and included parts for dancers of all skill levels and ages.
For the second season, Mahoney's style of choreography would emphasize showmanship, displaying the virtuosity of the performer rather than trying to tell a story through dance. With an older cast, one that was uniformly strong on basic dancing skills, Tom Mahoney could afford to devise more demanding steps, though the overall numbers were less complicated than the first season. He drew on a wide range of dance traditions, including popular dance, as well as tap, folk, jazz, and more rarely, ballet. His choreography usually paired-up boys and girls, generally no more than three couples, though there was little in the way of ballroom dancing. Instead, he followed the strengths and inclinations of the Disney Music Department, which favored music of the swing and early jazz era.
Mahoney himself was a very casual guy, who according to one Mouseketeer probably never owned a tie in his life. The Mouseketeers addressed him by his first name, and seemed ver comfortable with his direction. His dancing style wasn't universally appreciated, at least one of the kids objecting to his emphasis on arm movement during dances. Most mice, however, liked his jazzy style and appreciated him breaking down the steps into the component movements, something Burch Mann wouldn't do. Mahoney had a small part with lines in the second season Anything Can Happen Day skit "A Day in the Life of a Mouseketeer".
With the arrival of the third season, production numbers were cut drastically. The few new ones were of necessity simpler, due to a reduced budget, smaller cast and more demanding production schedule. (To save money, replacement Mouseketeers were going to be used for bit parts and background extras in the serials, so all musical numbers had to be completed by July 1957). Besides the Mickey Mouse Club
, Tom Mahoney also did the choreography for the Disneyland
episode featuring the Mouseketeers, called the "Fourth Anniversary Show".
Tom Mahoney appeared on camera several times for the third season, in both musical numbers and serials. His most prominent on-camera performance came as a flamenco dancer, tapping away on a table-top, with Doreen
as his partner. He also danced as Bobby's
shadow for one skit, and partnered Annette
in a jazz-ballet number. He appeared as a specialty dancer in The New Adventures of Spin and Marty
wearing a snowman costume, and for Annette
had a cameo as a haywagon driver.
Tom continued to work as a choreographer for Disney Studio television productions up to the mid-sixties. His career highpoint came with
the film Babes in Toyland (1962). Walt Disney wanted Annette Funicello to work with a choreographer she
felt comfortable with in this first attempt at a Disney musical. Tom devised some simple routines for Annette that made her look good
without taxing her talent. His large-scale Gypsy Dance spectacular was one of the few lively scenes in this otherwise limp movie.
About this same time, Tom Mahoney went with Walt Disney to see the Broadway production of My Fair Lady, starring Julie Andrews.
Tom later told friends that after the first few scenes, Walt said Julie would make a good "Mary Poppins", then promptly fell asleep
for the rest of the performance. Tom missed out on doing the choreography for the film, his last Disney work coming with the
Tenth Anniversary Show (1964) for the anthology series. Tom followed Annette to AIP, choreographing her and other dancers for
Bikini Beach (1964). His last credited film work was for Paramount on Airplane! (1980). Tom finished his professional
career at Knott's Berry Farm choreographing their Ice Revue. He died in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 28, 1995.
Information on Tom Mahoney's early life and later career comes courtesy of his niece Sue Niemczyk