Larry Orenstein       (1918-2006)
Songwriter and Scenarist
Though Disney credits have him only as a songwriter, Larry also wrote many of the second season storylines for Mouseketeer production numbers, as well as lyrics. He was also an accomplished jazz musician and singer, performing under the name Larry Neill.
Larry was born Lorentz Neill Orenstein on August 30, 1918, in St. Paul, Minnesota. His parents were Louis F. Orenstein and Rose Nemarovsky. His father was a Yiddish-speaking Russian immigrant, who arrived in the US as a small child and became a naturalized citizen in 1886. He worked as a buyer and manager in a department store. His mother, much younger than her husband, was also of Russian ancestry but born in Minnesota. Larry was the elder of two sons; by age ten he had anglicized the spelling of his first name to "Lawrence".
Larry's talent for music surfaced early; he taught himself to play trumpet and started writing his own music as a teenager. While attending UCLA in January 1937, he persuaded Duke Ellington to play for free at Royce Hall on campus...the first Jazz band performance in an American concert hall, beating the famous Benny Goodman-Count Basie Carnegie Hall concert by a full year. During college Larry wrote poems for magazines and songs for radio shows.
As Larry Neill, he sang and played jazz trumpet for Paul Whiteman during WWII, then switched to being a full-time vocalist with the Shep Fields orchestra. He also played with Joe Reichman's and Ray Noble's bands, and did temporary musical gigs as a sideman on radio shows. Larry joined the writing staff of The Donald O'Connor Show for the 1954-55 season, composing songs with the show's second banana, Sidney Miller. When that series ended, he wrote five original songs for a special episode of I Love Lucy, in which he himself had a character part. That same month of January 1956, Sidney Miller took over as director for the Mickey Mouse Club's second season, and brought along his former colleague Larry to write songs and storylines.
For the second season, writing tasks were taken away from the producers and given to newly-hired professionals. Larry and his colleagues (Ray Brenner, Tom Adair, and Sid Miller) wrote lyrics and dialogue for skits, generally building the storyline around one or more songs. This was the opposite of the first season, where storylines were written first, then had songs added to them. Larry and the other writers were also responsible for writing short (30 second) spot ads that the Mouseketeers would perform to sell various products.
The revised writing process for the second season still bypassed normal Disney Studio methods. Though nominally part of the Story Department, the MMC writers generally worked in pairs or even solo to create a show, rather than go through the committee process typical with a Disney story. There simply wasn't time for group collaboration when producing an hour-long daily show. In this respect, the MMC in its second season was like other television variety shows, having its own dedicated writing staff.
Larry's main collaborator on the show was Ray Brenner; both men were composers as well as writers, and so could create songs without the aid of the Disney Music Department. Nevertheless, both men worked closely with arranger Buddy Baker and choreographer Tom Mahoney in developing the production numbers. Larry and Ray jointly worked on the numbers A Whale of a Sailor, An Evening With Darlene, Judy Canova and Tweeny, Draw a Picture, The Dogies Danced All Night, and Scribble Town.
Larry also worked together with Sid Miller on Problem (Such As This), for the boys versus girls basketball skit. Holiday in Hawaii was Larry's most famous solo effort, but he also wrote the shows featuring We're Going to Have a Preview, Little Jazz Getaway, It Never Rains, Horseless Carriage, and You're a Grad. Larry left the show in the fall of 1956, after filming completed for the second season.
While still working for Disney, Larry married Marilyn Hoffman, a marriage that would last fifty years, until his death. The couple had two children, a son and daughter. After leaving Disney, Larry hooked up with Jeff Alexander, who would become his main musical collaborator. Their first success was the theme song for Bachelor Father, and they would continue to write songs and even an entire musical (What a Day for a Miracle) through the sixties and seventies. All told, Larry has well over one hundred songwriting credits on ASCAP.
A long-time patron of jazz at his alma mater UCLA, Larry performed what he called "Jazz Therapy" for many years to patients at the Veterans hospital near Westwood, California. His music sometimes helped with breakthroughs for catatonic patients. In the seventies Larry founded an advertising agency in Sherman Oaks, California. The Orenstein Savage Agency created commercials for Sony, Pioneer, Infinity Speakers, and MacDonalds. Larry died of pneumonia on February 22, 2006, in Sherman Oaks.