The Mouseketeers (And A Mooseketeer) on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show, 1975

The original Mickey Mouse Club presented five new hour-long episodes each week during the 1955-’56 and 1956-’57 TV seasons.

In ‘57-’58, the show started slipping away, cut to five half-hour programs per week.

In ‘58-’59, the lights were still on in Mickey’s Clubhouse, but nobody was home.

Production had shut down, and Disney resorted to re-cut half-hour reruns. The loyal viewers who remained to watch the repeats had the unusual opportunity to relive a portion of their childhood while they were still children.

By the Autumn of 1959, these kids had no idea what to do with themselves at 5 p.m. on weekdays. It was in that forlorn condition that they entered the sixties, mere months later, which might just explain the entire decade.

After three years of clublessness, reruns of the show again became available through local syndication, and MMC ran in this manner for another three years, from 1962 through 1965.

If you were eight when the show had premiered, you were a teenager by the second go-round, and distinctly embarrassed if not appalled by how much you used to love this juvenile entertainment. It was left to a new group of eight-year-olds to pick up Mickey’s fallen banner.

As the Mickey Mouse Club returned to the air in September of 1962, the Beatles went into the studio with their new drummer, Ringo Starr, to record six tracks. By the time the MMC “went dark” again, the Beatles had played Shea Stadium and received their MBE’s.

The show then made a strong bid for obscurity, remaining “dark” for ten long years. Depending on my math skills – and the month of our fictional eight-year-old’s birthday – the kid is now 28.

Not old – but not feeling so young, either. “The Sixties” really began in ‘63 or ‘64 (the Kennedy assassination or The Beatles, take your pick) and really ended in ‘74 or ‘75 (Watergate or the draft, your pick once again). This third time around elicited acute nostalgia from the original audience, now fueled by memories of what, in retrospect, seemed a far simpler time. Some of them were watching as the Club reconvened on January 20th, 1975, when the second series of reruns began.

That same evening, The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder videotaped an episode featuring original Mouseketeers Darlene Gillespie, Sharon Baird, Lonnie Burr, Cubby O’Brien, Tommy Cole, and Cheryl Holdridge (who died earlier this month at 64). For the many original viewers who were now allowed to stay up late and watch people smoke, the hour-long Tomorrow Show was the electronic equivalent of a grade-school reunion. And, especially for those who were watching their first rerun, it must have been something of a shock.

You see, each morning, you get up, you look in the mirror, and, barring misfortune, you see almost exactly the same face you saw yesterday and will see tomorrow. You never see yourself age. You only come to realize how old you are obliquely, by encountering some other face you haven’t seen in a long while. At that point, logic kicks in: I don’t feel older, but if that person is older, then I must be older.

If it weren’t for those damn Mouseketeers, and those damn memories of winter days when the fading sunlight in our TV rooms imperceptibly accomplished a cross-dissolve with the blue glow from our black and white sets, we could have stayed young forever.

As always, I suggest a visit to The Original Mickey Mouse Club Show fan site.
Why? Because I like you.

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The Search For Annette's Secret Passage

You’d have never known it to look at her. There was talk at the Triple R Ranch, of course; the rumor was that if you were around when Annette had her bathing suit on, you might be lucky enough to see her secret passage. That was the game, anyway.

That’s right, Mouseketeers! Disney had made Annette a star, but it took Parker Brothers, the makers of Sorry! and Tell It To The Judge, to make searching for Annette’s Secret Passage a national pastime. Parker had included secret passages in previous games (Clue has two of them) but to make a young woman’s secret passage the sole focus for an entire board game was unprecedented in the 1950’s.

The game play has the ring of truth to it: first, you swim around the lake for a while (according to the rules, any number of players may occupy the lake at the same time). Then, you walk around the island. Once you’ve accomplished a complete trip around Shell Island, slip back gently into the water and wait. When it’s your turn, prepare to maneuver your piece towards Annette’s Secret Passage.

But beware! Already circling Annette’s secret passage are two vigorous, powerful, elongated, round-bodied fighters with long projecting swords. (Yellow Arrows were added to this illustration and do not appear on the original gameboard).

Worse, according to Wikipedia, is that swordfish happen to be one of the very few species with the ability to heat “selected body parts” above the temperature of the surrounding water. Thus, the question “Does Annette like swordfish?” takes on a whole new meaning in the game, which introduced many a young lad to the concept of “secret passages,” perhaps explaining why an original set in good condition commands thousands on eBay.

According to the instructions printed on Annette’s box, “Annette, Spin and Marty are on a cruise off the coast of California with Marty’s Grandmother. During the night Marty’s grandmother’s jewels were stolen! (Parker Brothers’ exclamation point). Annette thinks that whoever stole them must have escaped to the island. The next morning, with Captain Blaney’s permission, Annette, Spin and Marty decide to do some “skin diving” and “explore the island” (quotation marks mine).

A careful inspection of the entire game board reveals the entire story.

Disney knew that The Mickey Mouse Club wouldn’t last forever, and in the fall of ‘57 – around the same time the Studio was making money hand over fist from Annette’s Secret Passage – the studio announced two productions designed to carry the success of the Mouseketeers forward.

The first was a theatrical motion picture, “The Road To Oz,” featuring Annette as Ozma. Although considered a “sure thing,” the studio was curiously quiet about the project afterwards, ultimately announcing that the movie had been shelved.

The second production was a groundbreaking TV series to be based on Walt Disney’s Annette and the Mystery at Smugglers’ Cove, the Disney book that had been perched atop the Times Best Seller List for 38 consecutive weeks. The cover gives some of the plot away; Annette is sailing across Bodega Bay with a pair of lovebirds when a seagull swoops down and pecks at her forehead, drawing blood. This is the first of many inexplicable events Annette encounters as she arrives in, then tries to escape from, Smugglers’ Cove Island.

The pilot for the TV series was produced, but test audiences found it confusing and “disjointed,” something many viewers claimed Annette would have to physically have been in order to fit into the minuscule boat seen on the novel’s dust jacket.

The Disney studio would have to wait until it owned ABC Television in order to return to the project nearly five decades later, when it unexpectedly became a huge success. Alas, none of the footage from the original “Smugglers’ Cove” pilot still exists, and the episode is one of the ten “most sought after lost television shows” identified by the Library of Congress and something called The Paley Center for Media. All that survives is a single color still featuring Annette in her role as the upbeat, dancing castaway, Kate.

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