"If there were any justice in show business, which there isn't, Sharon Baird would be a star." --Jerry Bowles
A Red Team member from day one, Sharon was a true professional, by attitude as much as experience. The best female tap dancer on the show, she maintained a positive outlook through the many ups and downs in her long show business career.
Sharon was born in Seattle, Washington to Eldon Baird and Nicoletta Marcus. She has a younger brother Jimmy Baird, who had a brief career as a child actor himself. Eldon had come from the Midwest to build airplanes at Boeing. Both parents loved square dancing, and to mollify Sharon at being left out of the fun, let her start ballet lessons at age three. She proved a natural talent, but came to prefer tap and jazz and anything else to which she could dance fast. From school recitals, she graduated to performing on Seattle stages at age five with other local amateurs and touring professional acts.
When Sharon turned seven she won a "Little Miss Washington" beauty contest; her interviews before 1975 don't mention this. The event doesn't appear to have been connected to modern "Little Miss" pagents. Her prize was a trip to California to compete in the nationals, where she placed second. According to Sharon, her parents fell in love with the climate and the family moved to Los Angeles. It seems a bit whimsical, the sort of reason parents might offer a child, instead of trying to explain about the boom-and-bust cycle of Seattle's aviation industry or the wonderful opportunities awaiting talented children in Hollywood. However it was, Sharon's father switched from Boeing to working at Flying Tigers and Sharon got a new dance teacher, the famous tap specialist Louis daPron.
Louis daPron, who taught other future Mouseketeers (not all of whom remembered him fondly), suggested in late 1951 she audition for an NBC television program called The Colgate Comedy Hour. The show was then relocating from New York to Los Angeles; one of its quartet of rotating hosts, Eddie Cantor, was looking for some kids for a skit. Too small for the parts on offer, she nevertheless was signed to a personal contract by Cantor, who beginning in January 1952 had her appear monthly on live broadcasts of The Colgate Comedy Hour, whenever he hosted.
Her small stature and baby-face features made it easy for Sharon to appear much younger than she really was. She looked no more than five on the Colgate shows, and her dialogue in the skits reinforced this impression, which made her dancing seem all the more remarkable. Her agent said she was eight, while Cantor gave out press releases that tagged her as seven, when she was really pushing ten. Hollywood's poetic license dismayed the honest little girl. After signing her, Eddie Cantor sent Sharon to a film audition for Bloodhounds of Broadway. Caught between the twin imperatives for telling the truth and not contradicting her elders, she pled ignorance when asked her age. She got the job anyway, a marvellous bit dancing with Mitzi Gaynor.
Live television debut: 'Cantor Goes to College'
Eddie Cantor had Lloyd's of London insure Sharon's legs for $50,000, then distributed a photo to the newswires of him explaining the policy to her, reinforcing her kindergarten image. After his heart attack in September 1952 forced Cantor to cut back on performing, Sharon's career also took a hiatus. She did two more Colgate Comedy Hours in early 1953, but had no film or television work for a year following. During this time she seems to have become a free agent, eventually landing a starring role on an episode of Death Valley Days in 1954, portraying 19th Century entertainer Lotta Crabtree as a child in the Gold Rush camps of California. Later that year she did an episode of The Donald O'Connor Show which also starred Sid Miller.
Sharon featured in an episode of Damon Runyan Theater in early 1955, then sang and danced with Dean Martin in Artists and Models later that spring. For the first time Sharon didn't receive screen credit. Her toddler wunderkind image was giving way now to that of a pretty and talented young girl, a tapping wizard to be sure, but Hollywood was filled with talented and pretty young girls (another of whom, Nancy Abbate, also worked on this picture).
It was at a Capital Records recording session for this movie that Sharon was recruited by Jimmie Dodd to audition for The Mickey Mouse Club. Sharon says her agent, knowing Disney's reputation for low pay, tried to keep studio casting director Lee Travers at bay but was intimidated into sending Sharon to the tryout. (Lonnie Burr reports the same tactics were used on his agent mother). Also like Lonnie and unlike other Mouseketeers, Sharon claims to have been given a private audition. She sang I Didn't Know the Gun Was Loaded while twirling a rope overhead, then used it as a jump rope while tapping to the music.
Shortly after signing with Disney, her agent was approached about having Sharon portray Shirley Temple in a film project. Disney wouldn't release her, and the projected biopic never materialized.
With a large first-season cast of uneven quality and little experience, the Mickey Mouse Club needed Sharon's easy-going professionalism to hold the early skits together. Relaxed and natural on-camera, Sharon seemed to sing and dance in just about every musical number filmed the first year, except for ballet pieces. Darlene Gillespie and Judy Harriet were the standout singers the first-season, but in comic songs Sharon could hold her own with them, scoring points for liveliness and charm.
The second season switched from unconnected ensemble numbers to multi-song skits that emphasized the individual kid's talents. It also brought in a new choreographer and director, who together changed the dance style to favor peformances featuring only three or four couples, with other mice just filling in the background. This suited Sharon at first, for her prime dancing skills ensured she would be among those chosen couples, while her height meant she and her partner would be placed in the front rank for the camera. Her main partner this season was Lonnie Burr, with Jay-Jay Solari as an occasional fill-in. Both boys were younger than her, but not noticably so, and their physical size made them good matches on-camera.
Sharon was a mainstay for the live performances the Mouseketeers did at Disneyland and on the road. She was invariably matched up on-stage with Bobby Burgess for a fast jitterbug routine. One of the most popular and enduring images of the Mickey Mouse Club is their "wraparound" move, while the height difference between them was just part of the appeal. Sharon drew a good amount of fan mail, enough to keep her on the show and the Red Team for the first three seasons. She maintained friendly relations with all of her colleagues, though as time went on she became more closely associated with the little clique of girls around Annette.
Though she was a major player in the first two seasons, with the third season she was eclipsed by the physical growth of the rest of the cast. As the Mouseketeers grew into their teens, the disparity between her height and others coupled with the reduced number of boys worked against her. Sharon was still called upon for specialty solos, but was either left sitting in the background for partner dances or matched up with boys who were obviously much younger than her.
She did have her own star episode however, called "The Sharon Show", where she performed two specialty numbers: Dry Gulch Cowboy, in which she reprised her tapping while jump-roping audition, and a solo tap-jazz piece with drumsticks. Sharon also had a small part in the Disneyland "4th Anniversary" episode filmed in July 1957. The Annette serial later that same year gave her a rare chance to act. She was paired with an equally short actor, Rudy Lee, as her reluctant beau. Her character was promoted from background extra to a fairly significant role in the screenplay, perhaps because writer Lillie Hayward knew of her close friendship with Annette.
The end of filming in May 1958 didn't spell the end of Sharon's involvement with Disney. She continued to perform at Disneyland and other venues with Jimmie Dodd and a small number of other Mouseketeers from time to time. One of these was at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1958, her second but far from last performance there. Sharon was also among the handful of Mouseketeers whom Jimmie Dodd took to Australia in May 1959. The frenzy of the Aussie crowds surprised her; for the first time she realized how popular the Mouseketeers were. In some places, that is. Like Annette and Karen, Sharon experienced harrassment at the public high school she attended. She told a 'Teen magazine interviewer in 1959 that she was becoming used to it, but she eventually graduated after switching to studying with a private tutor.
Upon return to the states, she had a two-month engagement at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, performing with Donald O'Connor and his long-time partner Sid Miller. Diminutive even by Mouseketeer standards (she topped out at 4'8"), Sharon came to maturity as the variety show format she excelled in was dying out. Though a good actress, her stature and tap-dancing image may have closed casting doors to her. Never one to complain, she taught dancing, and majored in math and secretarial science at Valley College from 1960-62, where she made the National Honor Society and served as Women's Student President. She joined the 'Teen Troupe for a few gigs, including another return to the Hollywood Bowl with Tommy Cole and Roberta Shore in June 1961.
Interviewed again for 'Teen magazine in 1963, she sounded a bit discouraged for the first time about show business. She was working full-time as a secretary, but had hopes of putting together a nightclub act. After marrying dark-haired singer Dalton Lee Thomas in September 1964, Sharon and her new husband teamed up with David Jourdan as "Two Cats and a Mouse". Critic Charles Champlain caught one of their performances at the Los Angeles Playboy Club in 1967. He wrote in his column for the Los Angeles Times that their "close-knit driving harmonies evoke something of the Mary Kaye Trio", but "in between songs they delivered a great deal of corn which didn't pop".
The marriage and the act ended amiably about two years later, though the divorce didn't become final until 1972. Her ex-husband became a hairstylist; Sharon told Jerry Bowles in 1975 that he still did her hair. Throughout the sixties Sharon's main source of income had been her daytime secretarial work, first for Litton Industries and then Blue Cross. It looked like this would become her adult career until producer Sid Krofft called in 1969. The Krofft brothers specialized in fantasy children's television programs that combined live actors with giant puppet costumes worn by small people. They cast Sharon in their first television show H. R. Pufnstuff, and every succeding series they produced.
Sharon thus found a show business niche for herself for a few years, donning character costumes and performing for a number of the Kroffts' shows, including Lidsville, The Bugaloos, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (directed by Dick Darley)and their television special The World of Sid and Marty Krofft filmed (where else) at the Hollywood Bowl. She also worked at the same sort of job for independent shows like The New Zoo Revue, the cult favorite Land of the Lost, and elaborate stage productions for Las Vegas headliners. These costume character shows were popular but their mass appeal was a short-lived phenomena that didn't survive the mid-seventies.
Sharon appeared at Disneyland for events surrounding the Mickey Mouse Club's 20th Anniversary in 1975, and on a national morning talk-show three years later for Mickey Mouse's 50th Anniversary. Her next job was as a live-action actor for Ralph Bakshi's version of The Lord of the Rings (1978). She played the role of Frodo in the rotoscoping process that allowed the animators to create the films, and according to some sources voiced the character as well. Sharon was naturally one of the leads of the 1980 Mouseketeer 25th Anniversary show, and for several years afterwards performed in reunion shows on Disneyland stages and made the rounds of television talk-shows. With 1985's Dumbo's Circus, made for the Disney Channel, she once more had regular screen work again, albeit in another character costume as Lionel the Lion.
The following year Sharon took on the only controversial role of her long career. Playing in heavy makeup, she acted the part of an outcast teenage boy who through unknown means has the face and behavior characteristics of a rat. Directed by Sondra Locke, Ratboy skirts nervously along the edge of several genres without quite deciding what it wants to say. The makeup job by Rick Baker was appallingly lifelike, and Sharon's portrayal of the rodent-human hybrid so intense (at least until the character started talking) that many people simply couldn't stomach watching the film. Sharon was credited as S. L. Baird to disguise her gender. (This is the only public reference to her middle name 'Leigh'; no other credit, interview, book, or article mentions it).
Following this commercial and critical debacle Sharon returned to children's shows, acting in a made for video series called Mother Goose's Treasury. By 1990 her show business career had ended, though she has since done numerous documentary apperences for television shows and DVD special features, and of course, many Mouseketeer reunions. At the fiftieth anniversary ceremony in 2005 at Disneyland, she even did a swinging dance number with Bobby Burgess, showing good form for a woman in her sixties. A longtime neighbor of Annette in Los Angeles, she moved to Reno, Nevada in the early nineties, but still regularly calls and visits her ailing friend.