Mickey Mouse Club Serials: The Secret of Mystery Lake
The film that became this second season MMC serial had a surprisingly long history. The original footage, shot in 16mm color and without sound, was made by cameraman Karl Maslowski in the late 1940's. This was purely a nature documentary, without dialogue or characters. Around 1949 Maslowski exhibited it as Earthquake Lake on a lecture circuit, presumably giving a live narration as the picture was shown to the audience. Its subject was Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee, a unique environment created by an earthquake in 1811.
In 1951, long-time Disney associate Larry Lansburgh produced and directed a feature film, using Maslowski's footage, in a semi-documentary called Mystery Lake. The cast was part professional and partly local to the Reelfoot Lake area. The film was released in 1954 by Larry Lansburgh Productions, and shortly thereafter was acquired by the Disney Studio. The film was broken into seven episodes, with some scenes possibly being refilmed. It was shown in February 1957 on the Mickey Mouse Club's second season as The Secret of Mystery Lake.
Note: The following is the synopsis for the original film Mystery Lake as included with the movie's press kit.
"Dr. Sorenson (Edgar Bergen), a noted scientist, assigns young scientist Bill Richards (George Fenneman), to study the animals and birds at Mystery Lake, which with its adjoining isolated swamplands is one of America's most spectacular wild-life sanctuaries.
Richards flies to his destination, presses into the interior alone. Trapping numerous strange animals, Richards finds that a midnight marauder springs the traps and frees the specimens. He discovers the intruder to be Lainie Thorne (Gloria McGough), and finally convinces her to guide him through the treacherous swamps.
They encounter fascinating scenes of wild-life --- flying squirrels, raccoons, swimming rabbits, spadefoot toads that dig themselves into the ground, and woodchucks. A note of terror strikes into the weird swamp with a battle to the death between a water moccasin and a salamander, an unforgettable display of nature in the raw.
Reaching the City of the Birds, Richards and Lainie marvel at the startling beauty of countless blue herons, snowy egrets, double crested cormorants, inhabiting this largest heronry in the country. As they are leaving, Richards and Lainie are attacked by a demented hermit as they flee through the menacing swamp."
|Episode||       ||Orig Air Date||       || |
| ||       || ||       || |
|1.   Wilderness Assignment||       ||Feb   4, 1957||       || |
|2.   The Case of the Vanishing Specimens||       ||Feb   5, 1957||       || |
|3.   Secret of the Swamp||       ||Feb   6, 1957||       || |
|4.   Sounds in the Night||       ||Feb   7, 1957||       || |
|5.   A Notebook of Memories||       ||Feb   8, 1957||       || |
|6.   Mad Hermit of Moccasin Swamp||       ||Feb 11, 1957||       || |
|7.   Swamping Out||       ||Feb 12, 1957||       || |
| || |
How Disney acquired this movie for serialization on the MMC is uncertain. Ostensibly, the film was made by Larry Lansburgh Productions. Whether Lansburgh had Disney backing for this is unknown. Publicity for the film suggested, in that inimitable fifties manner, that it was a lurid thriller. A legal dispute with promoter Howard Babb may have delayed release of the film until 1954.
Also unknown is how closely the MMC serialization matched the original 64 minute movie. Disney credits, as provided by Bill Cotter in Issue 10 of Persistence Of Vision (1998), list Gloria Marshall as Laney Thorne and William Butler Quillin as the Hermit, but all other sources, including the film's press kit, have Gloria McGough and Bogue Bell in those roles. In the same article, Bill Cotter provided a synopsis that portrayed the Hermit as a non-violent, misunderstood nature lover, rather than the demented attacker of the movie synopsis. It's possible that the cast list and synopsis differences reflect some re-shooting of climactic scenes in 1956, to make the story less frightening to young viewers.
Bill Cotter's Disney serial credits also omit Edgar Bergen, who had a cameo role in the movie as Professor Sorenson. It's not known if this omission was merely a typo in Bill's article, or if it reflected actual editing done for the serial. If the latter, it's tempting to speculate that it may have had something to do with Bergen's pique at his daughter Candice not making the cut as a Mouseketeer.
The two men who filmed the wildlife sequences for this movie, Karl Maslowski and Woodrow Wilson Goodpaster, both grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the 1930's. Maslowski was a professional wildlife photographer and naturalist, while Goodpaster was a university zoologist. Maslowski provided footage for several of Disney's True Life Adventures, including Beaver Valley and Nature's Half Acre. The story sequences in the original movie were filmed by distinguished cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who did High Noon (1952) at about the same time.
George Fenneman, who played the naturalist Bill Richards, is today better remembered as an announcer and game show host than as an actor. It's possible he was selected for this role because he bore a resemblance to the fictional naturalist "Mark Trail", who appeared in daily and Sunday newspaper comic strips of the same name. The comic strip had started in 1946 and was at it's peak popularity when the movie was filmed in 1951. It still survives today, albeit with a mixed reputation.
"Bogue" Bell and R. P. Alexander were local residents of the Reelfoot Lake area hired by Larry Lansburgh to act in the original movie. Bell was a fishing and hunting guide, while Alexander was a cotton farmer. The background and subsequent career of Gloria McGough is not known; this appears to be her only film credit.
|George Fenneman||       ||Bill Richards|
|Gloria McGough||       ||Lainie Thorne|
|"Bogue" Bell||       ||Hermit|
|R. P. Alexander||       ||Uncle Tobe|
|Gloria Marshall||       ||Laney Thorne (MMC serial?)|
|William Butler Quillin||       ||Hermit (MMC serial?)|
|Edgar Bergen||       ||Professor Sorenson (Movie only?)|
|Larry Lansburgh||       ||Director, Producer (Original film)|
|Bill Walsh||       ||Producer (MMC serial)|
|Janet Lansburgh||       ||Original Story|
|Rosalie Bodrero||       ||Screenplay|
|John Bodrero||       ||Screenplay|
|Floyd D. Crosby, ASC||       ||Cinematographer|
|Karl Maslowski||       ||Wildlife Cameraman|
|W. W. Goodpaster||       ||Assistant Wildlife Cameraman|
|William Morgan||       ||Film Editor|
|Bruce Bushman||       ||Art Director|
|William Lava||       ||Theme Music|
|Robert O. Cook||       ||Sound|