The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show


MMC Guest Star: Ralph Heid (1946-2008)

The Hurricane of the Xylophone


Ralph Heid of Switzerland was a world-reknowned xylophonist, a lightening-fast musician who has been clocked at 1,000 strokes per minute. Born in 1946, the son of a band leader and an opera singer, he started playing the xylophone at age three, and a year later had a professional contract with a theatre in Basel, Switzerland. As a child he was known as "Master Ralph", the name by which he was billed as a guest star on the Mickey Mouse Club's second season.

Coming to America

At age five Ralph started touring, playing performances all over Western Europe. In 1954, a talent agent arranged for him and his parents to come to North America.

"I appeared at the Olympia Theatre, Paris, in 1954. An American agent from New York, working for Lew & Leslie Grade Inc, discovered me there and brought me to the States, together with my parents. I appeared in a lot of fairground productions all around the States and Canada, which were organized by George Hamid. I also appeared at the Roxy Theatre in New York City, from January 5th, 1956 until March 14th, 1957."

Ralph was spotted by a Disney talent scout and recruited for the show, one of the very few solo child performers to appear as a guest star. He spent several days filming at the studio in late September 1956, for an episode broadcast February 19, 1957, for which he received $1,000, more than twice the reported standard fee.

At the Burbank Studio

For Ralph and his parents, their stay in California was just one of many stopovers on his American tour, but it's one that stuck in his twelve-year-old memory.

"We were 10 days in Burbank and I remember, that the filming was spread out over several days. But I don't remember how many. We met a lot of people, they also gave me some music-charts with some melodies from Disney files, but they weren't very good to play on the xylophone. So what I played was the William Tell Overture, Espana Waltz, Skater Waltz, and The Stars and Stripes Forever. There were rehearsals, but not very much. For me it looked as if they were always filming, each piece several times. Something new for me was also the way they recorded the sound. I only played with a piano-player, and I was very sad about that, because I liked big orchestras at that time. But then they mixed an orchestra to it later. That was new for me."

"They dressed me up in a Swiss folk-costume... or that's what they thought it was. It actually was Austrian. I guess, they didn't know the difference, mountains are mountains...."

Though he doesn't seem to recall it, Disney Studio publicity notes that Ralph also played a comic duet with drummer Cubby O'Brien of The Blue Danube, in which the other Mouseketeers pretended to join.

One of the more memorable parts of his Disney sojourn was the experience of California's labor laws for show business children, particularly the schooling requirement.

"I remember that I was allowed only 15 minutes [at a time] in the studio (I think it was 15 minutes, like all the Mouseketeers), and then I had to go to school. There was a trailer on the Disney lot, which was like a school for all the Mouseketeers, and I had to go there between the filming. Now, coming from Switzerland, you can guess that there was not much teaching and learning [in the trailer] at that time. I had to tell the teacher and the Mouseketeers how it is in Switzerland, how we live, what we do. This wasn't so easy for me, as I couldn't speak [English] so good at that time. Oh, there was one thing I learned in the Disney school, that's the map of the USA. I had to draw it and remember where all the states are and which name they have."

Aftermath

Ralph Heid performed for fifty-seven years on the xylophone, entertaining audiences with his virtuosity. With the aid of his Czech-born wife, Hana, a former ballet dancer who served as his chief technician, Ralph often worked cruise ships as well as land-based theatres and nightclubs. Though he enjoyed his memories of the time spent at Disney, he always regreted not having any photos or video of the actual performance.

"I tried a couple of times to get a video or film from Disney, but it doesn't work. But I was very lucky in September 1975, when Roy Williams send me an audio tape of the whole show I was on. I don't know how he was able to do that, maybe the rules were not as hard in those days?"

Ralph Heid passed away in November 2008, leaving behind his wife, children, and grandchildren. He played seven other instruments, but the xylophone always remained his favorite. He was very aware that its attraction lay not in musical quality alone, but in the visual dynamics of watching someone play.

"The xylophone is not an instrument that appeals by itself. I would call it a show instrument."

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