JAY JAY SOLARI - One of the Original Mouseketeers.
May 19, 1942
Karen Pendleton, Mouseketeer.
August 1, 1946
With the last name of Solari it was easier to find him than if his name was Smith or Jones.
For those of you who are not familiar with the people finding websites, let me tell you that nobody has privacy anymore. Not even movie stars. Many high-profile people are blocked from these paid sites, but they must take the initiative to be blocked. And guess what? The Baby Boomer celebrities don't know how to do that. Maybe their agents or managers do that for them if they can figure it out, but it's now the wild west out there with personal information floating around. I was a little nervous calling Jay-Jay right off the bat. But as a former salesman, it was no big deal to my ego if he just hung up on me. He was actually ready to do just that when I made my pitch to him. But I started laughing a little with his sarcasm and guessed that he was testing me. I was right in my reactions to our gruff start and then we got along just fine. Initially, I think we ended up talking for a half hour or so and, near the end of our conversation, I realized that I should have recoded our conversion from the start. He made some outlandish remarks. Finally, I nailed him down with a day and time to call back for the real recorded interview.
Shocking Quote: “OK, we are now having this interview about the Mouseketeers. There was a time when I did not even want to hear that word. Life ended when the Mouseketeers ended. There was a reason why child stars go berserk and blow their brains out at some point. Because they can't make sense of anything.”
Jay-Jay did not start off the interview this way. And as he is telling me all this I am thinking, “WOW, what do the rest of the Mouseketeers feel about looking back?” I was to find out it was more positive than negative than what I am now hearing. Let me insert here that I will no longer refer to his first name as Jay-Jay. He went by the initials only as J.J. and did that before his Disney experience and after his Disney experience. The interior of his head was always J.J. He always felt a little lost with the group of 12 starters of the Mousekateers....known as the “A” group while the “B” group were just background fill-ins. I guess it looked a lot better on his shirt to see “ Jay-Jay” while doing the famous Mouseketeer role call. He told me that Annette was the only reason anyone watch the show. He went on to tell me...”I couldn't stand looking at myself. Without Annette, there would have been no Mickey Mouse Club. I think Walt Disney was convinced of that.” I went on to disagree with him in many ways with that comment. I watched Spin and Marty and loved the cartoons and in fact the whole show. J.J. I think loves to make some controversial comments just to get people's reaction. He is actually fun to talk with as you get his hidden, in between, mind blowing thoughts on life. He saw his one year contact as something he had no control over, yet that is what he is well known for the rest of his life. Now as a writer for “Easy Rider Magazine” that is something he does have control over, Yet, he is not really well known as J.J. The writer. At least he is not as famous as Jay Jay the Mouseketeer. He is part of the motorcycle culture as he describes himself today. He called it the felon segment of our society including the Hells Angels. “He went from one type of club to another type ... “ his words not mine. Some background: John Joseph Solari was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was a tap dance specialist who also had a good singing voice, and could act. His mom, Mary Byrne, was an innovative roller skater. His parents met at the roller-skating rink his father managed. His mother was Irish and sent J.J. to an Irish dancing school. He picked up tapping. He was a natural at it. He was dependable as a kid. He assumed every kid was in the business ...just a natural thing. When J.J. was a toddler, his father switched to working at a carnival. At six, he did some radio work in Boston, then did Goodbye Again, a play with Vincent Price, at age eight. Later he did tap solos at the Boston Gardens in a variety show headlined by Sid Ceasar. J.J. says that he never auditioned to get the job, he just went because he was told to by his mother. She never told him how to act or dance or behave at the auditions, as he knew better than her what was needed. He paints a picture of a fiercely ambitious stage mother, but blames his father just as much for not having the strength to oppose her.
The family eventually settled in the city of San Fernando, north of Los Angeles. His father switched from the carnival to working in a stockroom for an aviation-parts supplier. Jay-Jay graduated from stage and live performances to film auditions and television, including Dragnet and The Loretta Young Show, prior to auditioning for the Mickey Mouse Club. Jay-Jay High School in San Fernando, where he was a member ofthe National Honor Society. He graduated in 1960, then moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where his older brother owned a nightclub and restaurant. Jay-Jay helped his brother manage the restaurant, while performing at the club. Jay-Jay later returned to Los Angeles, where he attended San Fernando Valley State College. J.J 's. actual work time on the Mousekateers was for only six months. He was a second season replacement. The school he attended then was a one-room trailer on the Disney lot. He called this a joke because it made him stupid. After the show he tried to get back into a Catholic school where he was first educated. He had to wait a year to catch up and he got back into a Catholic school for eighth grade. At regular school, he was the attention of the whole school. But boys will be boys and there was the bully factor. He told me “There is a lot of persecution if you are a teenage male and quick to make fun of things. Some of the things I did on the Mickey Mouse Club were pretty silly. The clothing, for one thing, and the smiling and caring on and getting excited about things that weren't inheriting exciting...So you have to confront the bullies of the school. So, after awhile you either succumb or you have to reign supreme . I somehow worked with great effort and stress and confusion to where I think I am OK now.” We went on to talk about the money aspect and how that effects kid actors. He went on to say. “If you had an external income coming in, your abusers would be far fewer because you would be holding the cards against the bullies. I didn't have those cards.” J.J. Described this as Mouseketeer torture. He told me that I had a scoop on this because for many years he refused to talk to any media that would bring up the subject. His biker audience found out years later, but did not judge him on that. “They are dirty, filthy, drunken, don't give a crap, bikers.” He found an audience that emotionally and psychologically changed his way of thinking. J.J. Has been kicked off Facebook a couple of times. If you read his opinions you would understand why. They border on being racist. He is really harmless and uses his writing skills to shake things up.
Darlene Gillespie, Mouseketeer
Born: April 8, 1941
Sherry Alberoni Van Meter, Mouseketeer
Telling it like it is: “Just because you are a cute kid does not mean you are going to be a cute adult. There are a lot of kid actors who are miserable people. If they were plumbers they would be miserable people. Don't blame in on show business. Blame it on their parents."
Cubby's Wife, Holly, is a close friend of Sherry’s and Holly gave me her contact information The funny thing is that Sherry and Cubby once had a teenage romance. You would have thought it would have been Karen and Cubby but not so. Sherry was brought on board with The Mickey Mouse Club during the second season of the show. At the age of 9 was the youngest of the mice. Both Sherry and her brother tried out for the show. Her brother during his audition saw he was not going to make it and volunteered his younger sister who could play the trumpet while tap-dancing. The casting judges loved her and the director thought that her lisp was hilarious.
We started our interview about her being born in Cleveland at the same hospital I was born. However that ended our common thread because Sherry moved to California at 11 months old. Sherry is a talker. A real good talker. So this interview was easy for me and what a great personality that radiated through with my 45 minute interrogation.
Sherry was modeling at the age of two. She did charity shows for years with her brother who was also very talented. It was her brother who was seen on stage and asked to try out for the Mickey Mouse Club. His talent which included drumming was not going over and he was told that they already had a drummer meaning Cubby. He sold them on his sister trying out and she was a big hit. She played the trumpet and tap danced at the same time. In fact she almost knocked all her teeth out that day. Sherry had a lisp and the director, Siney Miller, thought it was hilarious and that cinched her spot for the show.
At age 9 Sherry had been on other TV and movie sets before her first day at the Disney Studios. But here it really did seem magical. With her mother in tow she was walking around her new surroundings with her new outfit... ears and all. From a distance she saw Walt Disney facing her and called out to him calling him “Uncle Walt” just as all the Mouseketeers were instructed to address Mr Disney. He called back to her..”Hello Mouseketeer Sherry”. Wow she was so impressed that he knew her name as she exclaimed to her mother. She was so thrilled that Sherry's mom did not have the heart to tell her then but she did years later.....”of course he knew your name it is written in big letters on your shirt.”
Sherry actually had met Walt Disney the day of the opening of Disney Land by way of winning a contest. She had raised more money than any other kid in California for the Community Chest through her volunteer charity work. She was proclaimed a “Red Feather” girl which enabled her to attend the opening day at the Disney ice cream shop taking picture with celebrities. She was dressed as a worker there and spilled ice cream on Walt Disney's new $40.00 suit jacket. She never guessed that in a year she would be a daily TV series at the Disney Studios. Let me add here that Sherry has never stopped giving back where she was displayed her generosity. She still has projects of volunteer work going on as we did this interview such as help building an abbey.As far as her last Mouse day....she goes on “ I was really blessed. I left the Mickey Mouse club on a Friday and went to work on a Monday with Abbott and Costello in the movie Dance With Me Henry”.
The way she got the part was Chris Costello, who was Lou's daughter and the same age as Sherry, told her father that Sherry was her favorite Mouseketeer. Lou Costello then watched Sherry on TV and called the Disney Studio and made arrangements for Sherry to play his daughter. Dance With Me Henry was the last time Abbott and Costello made a movie together. Sherry went on to Columbia Studios where she made numerous TV appearances and later voice overs for Hanna Barbera Cartoons. . She even played Davey Jones' wife on the Monkees TV show. She was only 5' 2'' so they looked like a couple.
How she met her husband of 45 years was an entertaining story especially the way she explained it.
Sherry was driving down from San Francisco with another girl and running out of gas. She was on fumes when she pulled off the highway in the middle of the state of a rural area. She was driving a pearl essence, pink Corvette and dressed in hot pants, go-go boots, big fake eye lashes, and long blond hair. She did not say this but I will add the fact that she had body to kill for, and since I remember seeing her on TV then and a product of the imperfect generation when it comes to saying the wrong thing....maybe I can get away with it. This young handsome guy comes out to put gas in the car ( as they did back in those days – explain that to your grand kids) and probably thought she was from mars. He was very clean cut and had real short hair unlike all the other guys in those days growing long hair. They struck up a conversation and the young man said that before he left for college he was passing through Hollywood next week end on his way to Mexico where he was going to buy fire crackers with his friends. Sherry said that at 1:00 on Saturday she will be playing first base on the Hollywood Deb Stars Team against the Hollywood Directors Guild. He had no idea what she was talking about but was interested so Sherry drew him a sketchy map of where she would be. Sure enough that next Saturday h shows up with some of his buddy’s. So they all talked and went some place but Sherry stayed in her car. After all she did not really know him and had lived a sheltered life. So the boys went to Mexico and on the back stopped at Sherry's house. He met her mom and they started writing each other. Soon after that Sherry went to VietNam with the Bob Hope Show to entertain the troops. They stayed in touch. I will skip to the part where they got married in this young man's second year of medical school attending UCLA. They have been married 46 years as this book is being written.
Because Sherry got pregnant early on she could not play parts on camera. Her agent sent her to Hanna Barbera and she started to get roles doing voice overs in cartoons. She was the voice of Josey and The Pussy Cats for 6 years. She did all sorts cartoon voices to pay the bills as her husband was starting his training. Sherry said “I could go home after two hours at a table reading and have morning sickness.
Darlene had a long legal battle with The Disney Company which started in the 80's. The Disney Channel repackaged the old shows and Darlene thought this broke the original contact for minors at the time. Plus there were unfulfilled promises of the original contract to promote her as a star performer. The legals hassles went on for years and was settled with the lawyers the real winners. Darlene could have really used the money. At that time Darlene had chronic back pain from a fall and could not perform her work as a nurse standing over a operating table.
Let me insert here that my book title might be a little misleading. It is not meant to be cruel or to do a hatchet job on those that I interview. Darlene suffered from some trouble with the law years ago. This has been well documented. You can always Google what happened. Her comment was “There are things you go through in life and someone else puts you in that situation. I am referring to my third marriage. This is my fourth marriage and it took me that many to get it right”.
Darlene lives in Ls Vegas now. She got the second most fan mail of all the Mouseketeers. She came to California at age four. She started at a dance studio of a women named Burch Mann, who who had a connection to the producers at Disney. She sent Darlene over for a try out with two other girls. She was singled out and hired on the spot after singing the Davey Crockett Theme Song. At age 14 she was considered the best singer of the mice. She was on every season but took a leave of absence when she got run down with pneumonia. It was a girls type of series but I still remember her as the star of Corky and White Shadow that Disney inserted as a serial. I talked to her about her talent as a very good comparison with Judy Garland. She really had that same X factor when she performed. She came to life when I said that and I could almost feel her blush as she said that was her hero and genuinely thanked me. Darlene did a lot of albums for Disney and got paid more for those than the salary of being on the Mickey Mouse Club. She finished High School across the street from the Disney Studios at a Catholic High School and it was very convenient since she actually had lived in Burbank the whole time. She then became a ballet dancer for two years. We talked about how most parts dried up and it was time for plan “B”. “You eat chicken one day and feathers the next. My plan “B” became my plan “A” so I went back to school and became a nurse. When Mouseketeer Karen got into a car accident and never walked again Darlene reunited with her and helped her. According to Darlene she did not have the needed support from friends. Being a nurse she understood what Karen was going through. Darlene’s answers were kind of short and to the point with little elaboration. “ I made the transition to being an adult and that is important. I have no desire to need the recognition. Disney drags the old mice out to let others know we are still alive.”
Tommy Cole, Mouseketeer
Born December 20, 1941
In 1983 Karen was in a car accident that put her in a wheel chair with permanent paralysis from her waist down. The vague news of our revered childhood TV icons did not make TMZ type of headlines. We might have thought it was one of those urban myths like “The Beaver”, Jerry Mathers, getting killed in Vietnam. But this one is true.
Karen was my first TV crush. I can faintly remember kissing my black and white, Philco, round screen TV, when she came on. What a thrill when my cell phone rang and she said “Hello, this is Karen.” I knew that raspy voice right away and I thought to myself that I had dreamed of this moment but too bad it was 60 years too late. It was still a thrill straight from Blueberry Hill.
Karen was a dancer and a pretty good singer. She says she can carry a tune but always had a raspy voice. In fact, she told me that she just had a procedure on her throat because her esophagus was closing up on her. She always tends to get a little horse after she overly talks and it seems to stem from childhood. At age eight her dancing teacher took Karen along with three other students to a huge cattle call casting for a new Disney program. When she was called back she recognized a man from her church, Jimmy Dodd, as being one of the judges. That weekend during a family barbeque she got a call to report for work Monday that she made the Mickey Mouse Club. Nobody really knew what the program was even about then so Karen describes herself as “ Clueless at Eight years old.” Karen also claims that Jimmy Dodd, the real leader of the gang that was made for you and me, was not influenced by the fact that that Karen and her family were members of the same church that he also attended. I would like to throw a “Wink Wink” in here but I am convinced that Karen really did deserve it as she was not only chosen with the other 36 Mouseketeers but she made the top ten in the Roll Call proving her talent. Speaking of Mouseketeer talent, the conversation flowed into how years later the show was revived with new Mouseketeers for new generations. At this point Karen said, “The New Mouseketeers are too talented. The ones like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake are too professional. They are manufactured as not real kids. I could have never done what they did on stage. When Walt started the show he wanted the average kid spectator to be able to identify with the kids they were watching on TV. That connection somehow got lost.” We talked about each one's talents and we both agreed that Darlene was the most versatile and talented of all the Mouseketeers. As we all remember, Karen was always paired with Cubby as they were the youngest. They looked like they might have a real romance some day but that was not to be. Actually at sixteen Karen dated Johnny Crawford, a short lived Mouseketeer and major TV star from the Rifleman. Karen and Cubby don't see each other often but she says that they are still best buds.
“People love to talk to us at the autograph shows. They bring memorabilia for us to sign and I love talking to them. I feel very fortunate and proud. I never get tired of people coming up to me to ask questions. In the past I felt excluded, because of my wheelchair. I was not invited to certain events created by the Disney executives at Disneyland in California. The first time the public saw me after my accident was in 1986 at the 30th anniversary show. And they asked me if I wanted to hide the fact that I was in a wheel chair. I said, 'No Way. It is a very good to send the message that disabled people can do things.' I also still love going on all the rides there especially the roller coaster types with my grandchildren.”
Karen reinvented herself and went back to school and got her masters degree in psychology, but in 2004 her life was put on hold as she moved in with her parents, who were very sick. Karen took care of them until after they passed away in 2006. Karen also had a health set back while she was spreading herself too thin by taking care of her parents more than herself. She got back on track and now teaches parenting classes and lectures about disability awareness. She brought up more than once that “having a good attitude,” is what gets her through life.
Karen concluded: “Just last week I got an autograph request from a soldier in Afghanistan. That really touched my heart. So it's not just the old people but some young people also who watch us. This soldier was in his thirties. They watch the reruns from DVD's. The show teaches good morals. There are followers of all different ages.”
Born March 26, 1946
Cubby O'brien – One of The Original Mouseketeers.
Born July 14, 1946
Some tough feelings: “The other Mouseketeers have gone on a conspiracy and kicked me out. In my autobiography I can honestly talk about an outside relationship with my wife and I and Tommy and his wife for all of 20 years. But he lied to me and betrayed me so many times I just had to stop it. And with Sherry she spent the last 35 years of her life trying to fit herself in now and was part of the “B Group” for one season....But she replaced Doreen on our 25th Anniversary TV Special on ABC...which I was the second writer and creative consultant.
I certainly did not start my 45 minute interview with Lonnie about that above statement. But later when Lonnie was telling me his side of the story I could not help to think back of the Mickey Mouse Alma Mater Song which goes in part “ ...through the years we'll all be friends where ever we may be... M-I-C-K-E-Y ( pause) M-O-U-S-E. Darn I really wanted to believe that. So much for childhood promises.
Lonnie calls himself “The Accidental Mouseketeer” which is also the name of his book. He was discovered by Jimmy Dodd at a recording studio where they met each other during a session. Jimmy thought Lonnie was great and as a result he arranged a private audition. Lonnie was a little chubby his first year on the show and could sing like Mel Torme. His nickname then was “The Velvet Smog” which was the jesting take off of Mel Torme's nick name of “The Velvet Fog”. Lonnie was not a new comer to being a professional as most of the others were. Walt wanted normal everyday kids that the audience could connect with as themselves. Lonnie, Cubby, and Sharon were the accept ions with the “A” team of those who carried the show. I brought up his role in one of the early parts he had on “The Range Rider” that I thought was corny, entertaining and hilarious by today's standards. Lonnie was eight then and carried the episode that I watched on YouTube. Search for “The Holly Terror/ Range Rider” on YouTube. Lonnie was also in the movie “Hans Christian Anderson” with Danny Kaye. He claims to be related to the real Has Christian Anderson who he met during the filming. His parents were famous dancers in vaudeville and billed as DOT AND DASH. His mother got injured pretty badly on stage while dancing and they settled down in Northern Kentucky. At age 3 Lonnie left there with his family to California.
The following trivia, thoughts, and topics were part of my 45 minute interview I had with Lonnie.
Lonnie was on the Ruggles TV Series which played from 1949 to 1952. He was the neighbor kid next door. He was in radio soap operas for two years. He graduated high school at age 15. During the first year of doing the Mickey Mouse Club he gave Annette Funicello her first kiss. He is the only one of the mice that worked with Annette as an adult. It was a made for TV movie on the Disney Channel about winning the lottery. He has been in 49 plays on Broadway. He says that he was the one that instigated the Mouseketters Reunion for the Tom Synder Show. For a real kick just search on YouTube “Tom Snyder with The Mousekteers”. He lives in Oregon and when I talked with him he was still in rehab. No not the kind you are thinking about. In Rehab for his shoulder which has been giving him chronic problems with it being all torn up. He earned at Disney $185.00 per week.
Lonnie became philosophical and his views on being a child star became mixed. He stated that when you meet a fan in person you feel wonderful to have that feeling that you meant so much to that person and he called it an ineffable feeling that money can't buy. On the other hand he said “ I don't think parents should allow their kids to be urged on as professionals until they are eighteen. Before that let them perform all they want in front of audiences in all different types of ways. Just not professionally.” Lonnie is very witty with a brash and theatrical way of conversation while giving his slant on things. For doing my homework on him before we started, which he appreciated, he made me an honorary Mouseketeer and said he had the authority to do just that. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day. That wore off with trying to nail down my next interview. I was on a roll.
There is no malicious gossip or scandals to uncover about Bobby Burgess. That wide smile spreading ear to Mouseketeer ear is genuine . He told me that he has lived a charmed life. The only little-known fact that I was able to dissect from my interview is that Bobby lives next door to Justin Timberlake. in the Hollywood Hills. Why is that fascinating? Justin was also a Mouseketeer who also got his start on the Mickey Mouse Club. Of course, decades apart separate the two. Bobby's dog wandered off onto Jason's property and that is how they met each other. That is the only time they talked.
Robert Wilkie Burgess was the most recognizable male Mouseketeer and was literally a head above the rest. He was just over six feet tall. His father was a meat cutter and the family had no background in the entertainment business. At about age four Bobby took lessons in dance which soon included Ballet, Ballroom , Latin, and Jazz. The dance studio also emphasized social standard etiquette. Who knew back then that Bobby later in life would create his own professional dance studio teaching 1800 kids per season. By age thirteen Bobby had competed in fifty-four amateur contests. He also performed at charity events while singing and playing the accordion at the same time. His first paid gig was a toothpaste commercial for “The Ozzie and Harriet Show in 1954. His first audition for Disney was actually for the “Spin and Marty Serial” and he did not get the part. It was there that he heard about the Mouseketeer auditions. After four callbacks he got the job. He cinched it with his own creation doing a barefoot dance to “Rock Around the Clock”. He told me that the bare foot gimmick made him stand out from the others. When the show progressed everyone thought he was related to Jimmy Dodd, the head Mouseketeer. The resemblance was a father/son visual aspect with both always standing in the back hovering over the other mice. Bobby's real dance partner for 18 years was not even a Mouseketeer. Her name was Barbara Boylan and she was featured on Guest Star Day with Bobby a few times. Later she was seen as his dance partner when Bobby became a regular on the Lawrence Welk Show. The two were paired way back at age eight at the “Call Dance Studio” in Long Beach where they both grew up. For those of you who know the LA area, imagine driving everyday from Long Beach to the Disney Studios in Burbank every day. Bobby's mom did that even before the freeways were completed. When the Mickey Mouse Club curtain came tumbling down Bobby returned to High School in Long Beach. Bobby was not the target of bullies maybe because of his size but there was the occasional verbal heckling. Bobby and Barbara Boylan continued to dance and in 1960 they won a dance contest at the Aragon Ballroom in Santa Monica sponsored by Lawrence Welk. The grand prize was an appearance on the Lawrence Welk Show doing a dance to the hit song Calcutta. This aired and launched Bobby's full time career with The Welk Organization.
If you want to see a montage of Bobby's dancing go to YouTube and in the search area type in Bobby Burgess Mouseketeer Torchy Smith
Dancing and entertaining for Mr Welk continued on in the 70's and 80's. For those of you who remember the bubbles on the show you will understand the title to Bobby's autobiographical book called “Ears and Bubbles.” By the way Bobby married the daughter of the accordion player, Myron Floren, from the Lawrence Welk Show. There must be something about the accordion that attached to his hip for a lifetime movement. At his wedding there were Lennon Sisters and Mouseketeers. If you don't remember who the Lennon sisters were then it time to Google again.
You might as well Google the word “Cotillion” as long as you have your device out. Since 1987 Bobby has run his own cotillion studio in Long Beach. He teaches both dance and etiquette. The country club set still exists with “coming out parties”. Don't get the wrong idea here. These parties are all about being presented to the elite society as teens. This is strictly a black tie affair. I was surprised to learn that Bobby has 1800 kids at a time in his school. His son also is involved so the family business called Burgess Cotillion in Long Beach. Bobby pointed out that ever since Chubby Checker and The Twist people stopped touching as a unit in dance. His ballroom style of teaching keeps the old traditional form of dancing alive for young people. You won't find a nicer more wholesome family. And that may be the shocking reality compared to today's world.
Surprising Quote: The Original Mouseketeers definitively deserve their own star on Hollywood Boulevard. It costs a sponsor about $35,000 so I guess Disney doesn't have enough money.
I tried contacting Cubby directly since I saw no agent listed associated with his section on the IMDB – Pro Edition. I was able to get a phone number of their residence in Washington State through another method. The O'Brien's have moved since my interview so don't try contacting them. Let me say off the bat that I would never give out a phone number of a celebrity to anybody. Even if I can find their home information I always go first to their representation people listed. When they no longer have any representation listed then I try the direct route. I was able to reach Cubby's wife, Holly, on the phone. I explained to her that I was just getting started and had just interviewed Jay-Jay. She couldn't have been nicer. After I did the interview with Cubby, she was the person that got me connected to all the other living Mouseketeers. Cubby does not do the computer, but through Holly's email account he sent me a nice note before the interview was nailed down with a date. Here is part of what he said.
“ I listened to your interview with Jay-Jay yesterday. I would be more than happy to do an interview with you and share 'my slant on things' as you suggested.” At that time, he was in and out of town as he was doing shows with the singer, Bernadette Peters. He has been her drummer for years.
Background: Do you want to know everything about Cubby O'Brien? Then go to Wikipedia. In fact, that holds true for all the interviewees in this book. I decided early that my interviews would be pretty boring if it was like Ralph Edwards doing This Is Your Life. This is not TV and you can't see Uncle Buck and Aunt Bea coming around the curtain hugging Cubby and explaining how they bought him his first drum set as everyone sheds a tear. (I made that up, of course, if you are wondering.) “How many grandchildren you have? “ Or, “what is your favorite anything?” Are the type of questions I decided to stay away from. On the other hand, some background information can be interesting. So I tried to incorporate that in my asking of my questions during the interview. Most times, on the background questions, I knew the answer but most likely the targeted audience did not know. I guess what is interesting here is that Cubby comes from a family of drummers, and Cubby was a professional entertainer even before Walt Disney saw him for the first time which was on The Ray Bolger TV Show. Walt then requested him to try out for the Mickey Mouse Club. Cubby has been a professional drummer all his life and his list of credits in that field is very impressive, including gigs with Spike Jones, Ann Margaret, Jim Nabors, The Carol Burnett TV Show, The Carpenters, and doing conducting for touring Broadway Shows.
The following is my synopsis of what I think the reader would like to know from my 45 minute interview with Cubby. May I add, like his wife, he couldn't have been nicer. He came across just like I hope he would be... from my sitting in front of my black and white 12 inch screen and talking to that same friend from my grade school years.
I started the interview by calling him by his real name of Carl Patrick O'Brien. He intermediately, of course, said he is only known as Cubby. His iconic name is like Fabian from the 50's and 60's. There is only one. If you Google “Cubby”, he is the first thing to pop up. He never tried to sell any tee shirts under that name or, for that matter, market anything with his face attached to that name. But owns that name and he was Cubby way before his Mouseketeer days. I joked that he should have marketed a toy drum set with his picture embossed on the bass drum. My grown kids would not understand who he is if hey bought a set for their son, but would understand if it was a Justin Bieber set of drums. He and Musketeer, Sherry, have done Disney Cruise Lines where they put on a show. The older generation on the cruise had to explain to their kids and grandchildren just who these Original Mouseketeers were and what they represented. Today's kids have so many choices of what to watch as we only had three stations. It was comforting that, when when we talked to each other on the school yard, that we were all on the same page back in the good old days.
Cubby heard my interview that I did with Jay-Jay. Being bullying was never a problem with him. After his Mouseketeer experience, Cubby went on to a Hollywood Professional School with peers like himself so everyone attending was in the same boat. I later found out that Cubby was president of his class. When he was sixteen, Cubby was already working in Las Vegas with the Spike Jones Band. If you forgot who Spike Jones was, then Google his name. He was hilarious and was so far ahead of his time. There are about ten of the starting Mouseketeers that through the years, have done anniversary and autograph shows. For the most part, they have stayed in touch with one another, but for whatever reason, Jay Jay was not one of those. At the time of this interview Cubby's father, a well known drummer of his day, was 101. And Cubby's brother who is also a drummer, was 80 years old. When Cubby started with the Mickey Mouse Club, he was eight years old and paired with Mouseketeer, Karen. They brought in the appeal to the younger set. Cubby and Karen had been offered a contact extension after the Mickey Mouse Club stopped filming, but the offer was contingent on both accepting the offer. Karen's father decided not to accept the offer, so the pair were dismissed as were the other mice. The big-time exception was Annette, who was offered to stay on.
At the start, they had six months before before the show actually aired in October of 1955. Walt opened Disney Land the summer before that, and the Mouseketters started to appear there. Nobody knew who these kids were at that time walking around and performing with those big ears. Cubby had to pick up tap dancing fast and, with his musical rhythm embedded in his soul at a young age, he was able cut the mustard. When the show aired, Cubby was one of the few that was able to be singled out and showcased with his unique drumming talent. The kids had no time to relish in their fame and really had no idea how popular they really were. That might have changed when they went to Australia and landed at the airport. There reception was like Beatlemania, with huge crowds yelling and screaming. Australians were just getting TV and the first thing they saw at 5 PM, when TV programming started for the day, was The Mickey Mouse Club. The Mouseketeers were treated like royalty. We talked about how Walt mortgaged everything to get the seven million dollars to get Disneyland opened. Walt almost went broke a few times. We talked about his move to the Lawrence Welk Show for two years after he left Disney. We talked about how he helped create a new Vegas type show for a new comer, Ann Margaret. We talked about memorable incidents with Richard and Karen Carpenter. Cubby toured with them for years. If you remember, Karen Carpenter also played the drums and sang at the same time. At one point in Las Vegas, Cubby introduced Karen to Buddy Rich, one of the best drummers of all time, and Cubby's hero. Buddy said to Karen Carpenter that she was his all time favorite drummer, with a wink. He was, of course, putting her on, as her drumming skills were pretty basic. We talked about him being semi retired, but exclusively still part on the Bernadette Peters Show, which has taken him all over the world. And we talked about how the Disney Company should sponsor a star on Hollywood Boulevard for the Original Mouseketeers, as it was one of the most popular shows ever on TV. There were 39 Mouseketeers, but only ten on the “A” team, which did the Roll Call. For many years, Cubby had a beard. In more recent times he shaved it off and now looks more like the real Cubby. He described that move as “I went clean again.” When he said that, I was thinking to myself that he was always “clean.” In fact, he is the squeakiest clean drummer in the business.”
It's not too hard to imagine that the fictitious, Mark McCain, after the TV series, The Rifleman, became a professional rodeo cowboy. He roped calves and tried his hand at bull riding. What is harder to imagine is that his current career is a band leader of romantic music from the 1920's and 1930's. This type of music has been his passion since childhood. Both his grandparents were violinists who came to this country in the early 1900's. His grandfather went on to become the concert manager of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Later after moving to California he became a violinist at Twentieth Century Fox. Johnny was left the actual paper music and early victrola records of that time period. As soon as he was able to figure out how to work his fifties record machine he would listen to that music. He compared it to the early magical Disney music we all listened to as kids. Today, Johnny has twelve or more musician in his band at any one time. Some are actually young people and play the music as written but may add a new twist once in awhile. He feels good to know that this music finds a new generation all the time. Even before being a Mouseketeer in 1955, Johnny acted on stage and TV. His father was a film editor at Columbia Studios and after visiting his father at work Johnny stumbled into becoming an extra. He had a natural talent for singing and dancing but only lasted one season with “the club that is made for you and me.” But what the public may not realize is that Johnny went to work steadily before he landed his landMARK role with the Rifleman. ( Pun was intended there...sometimes I get carried away). Before he learned to say the word “Pa” 100 times a day, he had accumulated 60 television appearances. I was impressed to know that he was even in the “Lone Ranger” once. Johnny chalked up 168 episodes in five years as being the TV son of Chuck Connors, and he said he was in every single episode except one. He said he still got paid for the one he was not in. To this day he loves watching the series. We talked about how each show had a lesson to be learned which is so different from today's TV. “Today’s' over the top violence can be a real turn off.” Throughout the series, there was a reMARKable on-screen chemistry between Mark McCain and Lucas McCain. They were still close friends up until Chuck Connors died at the age of 71 in 1992. I just realized he died at the same age I am now, and I think I need to take a breath here immediately and take a “Centrum Silver Vitamin Pill,” the gummy type. OK, I am back.
Johnny mentioned “ I leaned trick roping from a guy we had on The Rifleman. His name was Montie Montana and he was one of the best ever. Montie's best man at his wedding was Will Rodgers so that tells you a lot about him being an on screen cowboy. He gave me my first cotton rope and even today I practice with it as it is also good exercising.” I must interject here that I also interviewed Johnny Crawford in Person months before I interviewed him for my radio show. In person Johnny Crawford took his rope and lassoed my neck which I have on video which you can see on YouTube. Put in the search area of YouTube: “Johnny Crawford with Torchy Smith.” In my radio interview I reminded Johnny that he did that a Hollywood signature show which I helped organize. It was held at The Hollywood Museum. Every once in awhile Johnny would get out from behind his table at the autograph show and put on a demonstration by doing some trick roping. He had the place in an uproar. He even is seen roping Margaret O’Brien, a very famous child star, who is now 82 years old. ( Her age at the time of me writing this book.) In 1965 Johnny was drafted and became a soldier for two years. He actually worked his way up the rank of a Sargent. He did not go to Vietnam but was more valuable making movies for the military making instructional videos about using weapons and how to fly helicopters. It was after the army gig that Johnny Crawford homed in on his cowboy skills of riding bulls and roping calves. He became a professional at this trade and certainly got bounced around by the bulls. The roping calves was more up his alley. I forgot to go over his teen age idol days and his record hits but if you are a Baby Boomer you might have remembered even seen him on Bandstand.
Here is a little known trivia fact: In 1970 Johnny Crawford starred in a short subject movie that was about a young man dreaming of becoming a modern day cowboy. The movie was called “The Resurrection of Bronco Billy” and the movie won the “Best Live Action Short” for that year. The story and editing was done by the future whore of all horror movies, John Carpenter. ( A friend of mine was his college roommate and if you see me somewhere on the street...ask me and I will tell you how John Carpenter really stole the name of one his famous characters, Snake Plisskin.)
Johnny married a girl, Charlotte Samco, that he met in high school. There is nothing shocking about that. But what is unusual is that they got married 27 years after graduating from high school. They drifted away and then reconnected. Now as I type this, Johnny and Charlotte have been married for 28 years. Upon seeing him in person last year I was amazed how thin Johnny has become. He weighs 121 pounds which is 34 pounds less than when he was in the army. He says, “I don't drink and I am in good physical condition.”
Who Knew: In 2003 Tommy Cole won an election to become Business Representative for Local 706, Makeup Artists and Hair Stylist Guild. When He auditioned for the Mickey Mouse Club he played the accordion. He never played the accordion again.
Tommy's real talent was singing. Out of all the boys he was considered the best while Darlene Gillespie was the best of the girls. Later they were paired to make records for Disney. When Disney closed up shop and the mice were scattered Tommy was age 18. He ended up on tour with a group that performed at night clubs until age 24. It was grueling with 6 shows in a day. Later he was also a back up singer for Johnny Mathis on tour. A couple of times he wound up on the TV show, My Three Sons, with a former Mouseketeer, Don Grady. Coincidentally Tommy's mother was the guardian for the kids on the show. She did that professionally for many kid stars in Hollywood. While working on the set there Tommy struck up a friendship with the make up artist. Tommy took an interest as he got some instructions from his new friend and experimented with the media on his own. As he says, “I just fell into it and started knocking on doors. Finally ABC hired me and I am 40 years into this”. Tommy won an two Emmys for his talent and started to negotiate his own contacts. Then he started to help other union members negotiate their contacts. He ended up on the Hair Stylist Executive Board with 2000 members in their local. He has now been a business representative for 13 years. “Even though I am not a lawyer I have to think like one and talk like one. The labor relations people are all lawyers and that is who I have to deal with. My job is to make sure my members get a fair shake and the producers want to make as much money as they can. It is time for me to slow down and enjoy my grandchildren.”. We talked about the new way things work in the business side showBUSINESS as this seemingly glamorous facade gets peeled back. A lot of work left LA and his members lost their homes, lost their jobs, and then lost their marriages. Other states built studios for movie making and with the practice of out sourcing Hollywood felt the rivalry. The state rebates also pushed movie making elsewhere. With new legislation from Sacramento this is helping to bring back the BUSINESS side back to LA. Tommy has been working on that also for the people he represents. We also got into a conversation about him being the front guy for the original Mouseketeers for getting a star on Hollywood Blvd. But he describes it as hitting his head against a brick wall. He had an agent work on it with the Chamber of Commerce of Hollywood but it never came to fruition. “The opportune time to do this was for the 60th Anniversary of The Mickey Mouse Club. Disney's daughter would have been a big help and willing but she passed away. I enjoy talking about the past because it's been good. If you talk to a few other old mice it probably may not as been as good. It's been a good gig for me and a good run.
Lonnie Burr, Mouseketeer
Born May 31, 1943