Their original fans are approaching mid-life now, but two decades of intermittent reruns have led most viewers to assume that Mouseketeers never grow old—they just go into deep syndication. Still, when a TV producer rounded up 32 of the 39 members of the 1950s’ big-eared gang to tape a fall special—The 25th Reunion of the Mickey Mouse Club—he discovered that adulthood has struck.
Doreen Tracey, 37, has done a topless photo layout for Gallery magazine. Margene Lackey, 38, became a California prison guard. And even Annette Funicello, 37, has grown out of the beach blanket B-pics to marry agent Jack Gilardi, raise three kids, serve as the pitchlady for Skippy chunky-style peanut butter and guest on Love Boat. For those who made it to the reunion, the chance to sing their old mantra, “M-I-C, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E,” brought back some warm childhood memories nonetheless. “I never recognized this before,” said Lonnie Burr, 37, “but we are a family. It feels good to be part of this continuity.”
A surprising number of Mouseketeers never left showbiz. Burr sped through school after his Club years to earn a B.A. at 18 at Cal State North-ridge. He now writes for radio and TV, and his 1979 book Two for the Show: Great Comedy Teams is being spun off into a pay TV series. Sharon Baird, 37, was last heard as Frodo in Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings animation film (she had appeared previously as various creatures in the Sid and Marty Krofft children’s TV shows). Cubby O’Brien, now 34, drums for the Carpenters; Bobby Burgess, 37, dances on The Lawrence Welk Show. Not everybody found the lure of the greasepaint irresistible, of course. Karen Pendleton, 33, is a Fresno, Calif, housewife with one child. “I wouldn’t trade places with anyone,” she says. “I had never prepared to be an entertainer. It wasn’t like playing a part. I just played me.”
Even the Screen Actors Guild strike—which disrupted the taping and could jeopardize the special—didn’t dampen the nostalgia. Critics point out that the original Mickey Mouse Club presented a thoroughly white, middle-class view of life, with no black, Hispanic or Oriental faces under those cute ears. But the Mouseketeers still speak of their show with warmth—and of its creator with reverence. “Just being able to be around a man like Walt Disney so impressed me,” said Darlene Gillespie, 39. “He was the greatest.” Added Lonnie: “He turned the Club into a phenomenon.” The affection spilled over to the show itself. “Where else,” marveled Tommy Cole, “could I get recognized at 38 for something I did 25 years ago?”