Throughout the history of academic-enforced writing assignments, one of the more tried and true topics doled out in elementary schools is the one that asks children what they want to be when they grow up. “In 200 words or less, describe your dream career. Remember that this will likely define your value to society, determine your friends, your spouse, etc. And pretty soon you’re 54 and living in a studio apartment with a couch you found on the street, wondering if you made the right choices in life, getting buried under a mountain of debt stemming from ballooning student loans and maxed out credit cards, occasionally glancing at the fine print on your life insurance policy for the word ‘suicide’. But, no pressure, children. The point is to just have fun.”
The problem with making these requests of children is that maybe 1 in 1000 have an inkling what they want to do as a vocation. For me, the “ideal career” changed almost week to week. Occupations were usually sourced from such professional career sources as Nick-at-Nite or channel 20 on basic cable.
Growing up on that particular Oregon street was innocent, quiet and, if I’d known what a Beaver Cleaver even was, maybe even Cleaver-esque. Hillsboro was the sort of Nilla wafer-flavored suburb that angsty teens hated for its lack of anything interesting that ever happened, and the neighborhood cops loved to patrol for the exact same reason.
The self-centered, myopic life of a child is all about living in that particular moment, playing an endless number of games, using anything and everything as a toy and basically overworking one’s imagination like it were a Dickensian workhouse orphan. At 4 years old, life was simple, fairly straightforward and free of the obstacles that life would present in the following years (obstacles like telling time and learning to write a capital Q.) Each day was (if the system of mathematics I made up was correct) 132 hours long and a week was made up of, like, three months.
When a television show is popular, profitable, a star-maker and iconographic, the best thing to do is let it runs its course and subsequently fade into the public consciousness as a fond memory.
OR you could wait 20 years, then rehash it, make it hip, modern and in touch with today’s audiences and let the mountains of cash come rolling in!
In 1977, the Walt Disney studio think-tank decided to reach into the mildly dusty vault of Disney home runs and reboot the 1950’s pop culture phenom, The Mickey Mouse Club.
As with the original show, the new MMC would be geared toward kids. But, unlike the original, this newer incarnation would try to reflect the societal make-up of Jimmy Carter’s America. Two things would be important for this to work: diversity and flashy, bright clothes. This was not going to be your mother’s MMC–this was going to be the MMC your mom would watch if she magically switched bodies with her pre-teen daughter. Jodie Foster knows what I’m talking about.
On January 17, 1977, the new Mickey Mouse Club premiered in syndication on a handful of stations nationwide.
It ended on January 12, 1979.
Now, that wouldn’t be a bad run if the show had actually been in production those entire two years. In reality, new episodes were produced from the premiere to June of 1977. With extra footage, more cartoons and serials thrown in, the show’s episodes were repackaged to give the appearance of being new.
The opening theme was changed to reflect the pop influence of the 1970’s by adding a few wicka-wicka guitar licks that instantly made it as timeless as a lava lamp.
Meticulously dressed in polyester body suits whose colors (one can only assume) were inspired by its team of designers spending the week huffing paint out of a paper bag, the Mousketeers, introduced themselves through song, showcasing their “unique” personalities and interests.
Todd, the typical kid-next-door, comes out on a skateboard, a hobby that he’s obviously had for hours.
Don, the slightly chubby kid who is the clown of the group (hey, fat is funny), does a bit of popping and locking Rerun-style to showcase that he’s also got some talent underneath that Cap’n Crunch belly.
Blonde and perky Carrie introduces herself through a series of gymnastic feats that forever reinforces the viewer’s assumption that perky blondes become cheerleaders. Women’s lib thanks you, Carrie.
Curtis, the Asian Mousketeer, comes out and impresses upon the viewers at home that all Asians know Martial Arts. If only Curtis had done his Kung Fu moves while using a calculator, imagine how different Asian stereotypes would be.
Julie (also blonde and also perky), shows that not all white, suburban girls want to be cheerleaders. Some want to be ballerinas. We can only hope that Julie never developed breasts and, indeed, became a ballerina that twirled around in polyester outfits. Shoot for the stars, Julie. Shoot for the stars.
When Pop (yes, Pop) introduces himself, the producers of the show made the very progressive decision to not pigeonhole him into the role of “black youth with street cred.” Otherwise, Pop would have introduced himself while dribbling a basketball. Oh, wait… he does do that.
Angel, the Hispanic Mousketeer, confuses viewers by gesticulating in what can only be described a combination of a mime pretending to be a robot, gang signals learned from television and an illiterate form of sign language used by cruel children mocking a deaf student.
So, are the Mousketeers to blame for the show becoming a flop? Of course not. They were kids who got a big break on a crappy show. Most returned to the obscurity from whence they came, but a few went on to other things.
Mousketeer Lisa Welchel went on to play the feather-haired Blair Warner on Facts Of Life.
Lisa followed this up with a pop album that reached #17 on the Contemporary Christian charts (my heathen self was surprised there were 16 other albums on that chart, at all. Who knew?) and is now a homeschooling advocate who writes books on disciplining children in a Christian home.
Recently, she has been criticized by parenting groups who say her definition of discipline borders on abuse. Good for you, Lisa!
Mousketeer Kelly Parsons went on to be a runner-up for Miss USA, deciding to throw off the shackles of being objectified and stared at on television to doing it on a stage for prizes and a sash.
Of course, in the early 1990’s, the MMC was again brought out for a new generation, only, this time, it worked (and helped introduce the world to Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling).
The original and the 90’s versions of the show were given the DVD treatment and sold to an adoring public.
However, the 1970’s Mousketeers are given no acknowledgement outside the occasional trivia question and exist today only as YouTube clips that were transferred from VHS.
The hopes are that someday Disney will stop treating this MMC as though it were some snuff film they want buried and actually transfer this forgotten treasure into a DVD or streaming option. I can honestly say that I would be one of upwards of a dozen people who would be interested in watching these.
Walt Disney was unaware how his 3-part mini-series about the life and times of Davy Crockett would become a national sensation. Merchandise was rushed into manufacturing to capitalize on the craze: everything from pocketknives and pencil boxes to comic books and, of course, coonskin caps. This latter item being the most lucrative, the most desired and, by far, the most remembered. That and its infectious theme song that is still so easily recognizable, even today.
Every little boy and girl in America wanted to be Davy Crockett, wanted to fight the Indians, wanted to ignore history and beat General Santa Anna at the battle of the Alamo.
Oh, and fight bears.
Real bears, not those burly guys in the Castro district.
After the craze died down, ABC, who broadcast Walt Disney Presents, wanted to compete with the other networks that were generating a ton of revenue via westerns. ABC put pressure on Walt Disney to produce more westerns, indirectly saying, “Hey, you know that lightening you caught in a bottle with Davy Crockett? Yeah, do that a few more times. Thanks, buddy.”
Granted, Walt Disney was producing Zorro, a half-hour series that did quite well and spawned its own share of merchandise. While Zorro was popular, it wasn’t quite Davy Crockett, which I take to mean ‘it wasn’t western enough’. So, Walt Disney began producing other mini-series’ that ABC hoped would transfix the nation.
One form of entertainment that is truly American is the Western. It portrays that wild, frontier attitude that drove Americans west in the 19th century. It is a genre that has been romanticized since The Great Train Robbery premiered in 1903.
Entertaining the masses was one goal of the Western, but, for many of us in the audiences, it also acted as a form of education. From them we learned to spot the good guy from the bad guy (hat color, level of cleanliness, name of horse), that shooting a gun from the hip is the only way to achieve an accurate shot from any distance, that all towns are suspicious of strangers, that a gunshot wound almost never exposes blood and that all Indian tribes are little more than savages who kill innocent women and children and are primitive, godless creatures whose souls are damned.