Disney’s Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club: Then and Now

We all know that some former child stars struggle to deal with the waning stardom that usually comes with aging in Hollywood. And even celebrities such as Britney Spears who can maintain their A-list status during their careers still experience challenges in Hollywood.

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Disney stars aren’t an exception to this trend, and The Mickey Mouse Club gave some of the biggest names in the industry their first break. What became of the original Mouseketeers and those who appeared in its most recent release? Heads up—some fared incredibly well, but unfortunately, others did not.

The Young Shall Grow

The Mickey Mouse Club was an entertaining variety show that debuted on ABC in 1955 and ran sporadically through 1996. The cast members consisted mainly of children and teenagers who appeared with Mickey Mouse and other Disney icons. Initially airing through 1959, the show had an alternating cast.

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The show’s emcee and Head Mouseketeer, Jimmie Dodd, guided the children and teenagers both in front of and behind the camera. The audience and the other Mouseketeers both loved Dodd who also inspired kids at home to behave responsibly. The Mickey Mouse Club was a mainstay for kids in the second half of the 1950s.

How the Big Mouse Ears Came to Be

Disney artist Roy Williams first suggested to producers that the Mouseketeers wear hats with large mouse ears, and it was an instant hit. The girls wore a large pair of plastic Minnie ears, and the boys wore Mickey’s ears. There was an A team (Red Team) and a B team (Blue Team).

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The Red Team was the cast members who took part in most of the episodes, while the Blue Team members were mostly on standby just in case they needed extra hands for the show. Nine children made up the original Mouseketeer Red-Teamers, including Sharon Baird, Annette Funicello, and Tommy Cole.

Annette Funicello’s Debut on the Show

Walt Disney himself scouted Annette Funicello. He discovered her while watching her perform Swan Lake as the Swan Queen in a California bowling alley. She quickly became famous at age 12, receiving more than 5,000 pieces of fan mail every month. Annette made multiple appearances on the show throughout her seven-year contract.

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She even had a few of her own specials. Because Walt Disney loved working with Annette so much, he cast her as Mary Contrary in his 1961 musical Babes in Toyland. Despite being one of her generation’s most famous actresses, Annette Funicello’s life would, unfortunately, take a tragic turn.

She Got a Fatal Diagnosis

In 1987, Funicello starred alongside Frankie Avalon in the last of her Beach Party series. However, when she linked up with Avalon to promote the movie, she looked sick. People initially thought it was due to alcoholism, but it turned out to be something worse—multiple sclerosis.

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The beloved Disney star tragically lost her life to the disease in the spring of 2013 at the age of 70. Fans were dedicated to keeping her memory. Besides Annette leaving behind her legacy, the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders, a restaurant in Disneyland Paris was named after the Disney legend.

What Happened to Bobby Burgess?

Bobby Burgess was another member of the original Red Team Mouseketeers chosen by Walt Disney. During the height of his fame, he also appeared in shows such as The Donna Reed Show and The Lawrence Welk Show. After his Disney deal expired, he pursued a degree from Long Beach State University.

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He pledged Sigma Pi and started dancing with his childhood friend, Barbara Boylan. Today, Burgess has four children with his wife, Kristie Floren, and they live in Hollywood Hills. The couple met while working on The Lawrence Welk Show. Burgess still loves dancing and teaches at his own studio.

When Lonnie Burr Became Famous

Lonnie Burr was another original cast member of The Mickey Mouse Club, but that wasn’t his first experience in the industry. He actually grew up in show biz, learning the trade from his vaudeville celebrity parents who were called Dot and Dash in their dance act. Lonnie got his first paid job when he was only five years old.

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He started racking up more gigs on radio and television shows. He had silky dance moves and a deep voice that earned him the nickname Velvet Smog. Those jobs also led to him dating Annette Funicello. He graduated from high school at the age of 14 and then attended UCLA where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master’s degree in theater arts by age 20.

How Has Life Been for Lonnie Burr?

After getting his theater of arts degree, Burr returned to his entertainment career and continued to act. He appeared in several TV shows and some films. He was in Newsies (1992) and Police Academy: Mission to Moscow (1994). He also had a guest role in one episode of Murder She Wrote.

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Burr has appeared in over 25 movies. Besides his film and television roles, he also maintained a stable career on Broadway. When he wasn’t acting, Burr was writing. Some of his published books are quite successful, and he has written articles for the Los Angeles Times, among others.

The Rise of Johnny Crawford’s Career

Johnny Crawford only appeared on The Mickey Mouse Club for the first season. But he still continued his acting career after breaking away from the Mouseketeers. He was even nominated for an Emmy at age 13 after his incredible performance as Mark McCain in The Rifleman.

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Crawford made over 60 appearances on various shows during his two and a half years of working as a freelancer on TV. He starred in Little Boy Lost and had a guest role on The Lone Ranger. Crawford enlisted in the Army and served a few years before playing a soldier on Hawaii-Five-O.

Johnny Crawford’s Life and Career Today

At the height of his fame, Johnny Crawford was every American teenage girl’s crush. Like many other child stars, he came from a family of entertainers. As his roles started dwindling, he began performing on stage at nightclubs, particularly around Los Angeles and New York.

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In 1970, Crawford starred in a live-action short film, Resurrection of Broncho Billy. In 1990, he launched Johnny Crawford’s Orchestra in Los Angeles. It was successful and even earned 15 consecutive Art Directors Guild Awards. But Crawford abandoned his golden boy image for something more mature.

Johnny Crawford Appeared in Playboy Magazine

Johnny Crawford shocked his fans when he posed nude for Playboy magazine in the 1970s. Don’t forget, doing that wasn’t common at that time, so it was quite a risqué move for him. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the support he would have hoped for.

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Before he knew it, comments about the small size of his . . . you know . . . started flying around. But Johnny obviously didn’t care because he once again posed nude in the 1973 film The Naked Ape. Although the movie claimed to be educational about human evolution, it was somewhat disturbing at the time.

Darlene Gillespie: The Teenage Sensation

Darlene Gillespie shot to stardom as a young actress. Besides her four years on the original The Mickey Mouse Club, she appeared in several other shows, including the spin-off Corky and White Shadow. Darlene even played the title character in the live-action production of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.

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She was a fan-favorite Mouseketeer just below Annette Funicello. But unlike Annette, Darlene’s acting career never took off, and she switched to music. She recorded a few albums, including the 1950s rock album Darlene of the Teens. However, as her fame started dwindling, she became Disney’s rogue girl.

Biting the Hand That Fed You

Gillespie launched a shocking lawsuit against Disney in 1990, attacking the company for “promising her superstardom,” which unfortunately never happened. She also claimed she wasn’t paid fairly for the show’s reruns. The case was eventually settled out of court, but that was only the beginning of the controversies.

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Gillespie fell in love with Jerry Fraschilla and got engaged, but things got dark later on, which tore the child star’s marriage and her life apart. At 56, Gillespie was sentenced to a few days in jail and three years’ probation for helping Jerry shoplift some clothing.

Darlene’s Notable Rap Sheet

Jerry Fraschilla not only walked down the aisle with Darlene Gillespie but also took her down more roads of criminal activity and prison. He made her partake in various criminal schemes, including check fraud. Gillespie’s celebrity status didn’t help her, and she and Jerry were convicted in 1998.

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The charges were for perjury, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and securities and mail fraud. She was sentenced to two years in prison but was released after three months. Years later, she and Jerry had new federal charges against them, but they were later dropped. Lately, she has been spending time with her family.

Sharon Baird: The Mouseketeer Sweetheart

Sharon Baird was only three when she started taking dance lessons, and at age five, she won her hometown’s Little Miss Washington contest. Afterward, her parents moved to Los Angeles where she got an agent and began some television work. Baird appeared on shows such as The Colgate Comedy Hour.

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She got her debut film role in 1950, appearing in Bloodhounds of Broadway. In 1955, she became an original Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club. Sharon was a fan favorite. After her contract was up, she earned her high school diploma and a university degree in math and secretarial science.

What’s Sharon Baird Up to Nowadays?

Despite her mathematics degree, Baird’s heart yearned for entertainment. She voiced multiple puppet characters in several children’s shows in the ’70s and played a role in the comedy show Gallagher: Over Your Head in 1984. Baird was in love with acting, and she also found love with vocalist Dalton Lee.

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Throughout her adult years, Baird played many roles both on stage and on television. However, during the ’90s, she began to slow down as the gaps between on-screen appearances grew wider and wider until she basically retired completely. She currently enjoys semi-retirement in her home in Reno, Nevada.

Sharon Baird’s Bizarre Role as Ratboy

Sharon Baird portrayed the title character in the 1986 film Ratboy, which is arguably the most bizarre role in her career. But not everyone would know she was the one behind the odd character. Even when the credits rolled, she was simply referred to as S. L. Baird.

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Although American critics gave the film negative reviews, their European colleagues liked it. Ratboy follows the story of a rat-like kid living behind a dumpster and hiding due to shame. The moral is that society can be shallow and ostracize people based on appearances or people who aren’t “normal.”

Doreen Tracey on The Mickey Mouse Club

Doreen Tracey was born in London to celebrity parents. At age four, her family moved to Tinseltown (Hollywood) where her parents opened a dance studio. Doreen loved singing and dancing at the studio and eventually followed in her parents’ footsteps with professional gigs of her own.

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She was hired for The Mickey Mouse Club when she was 12. After three years on the show, she continued acting and also appeared on The Donna Reed Show. Although she was an adorable young woman who made her fans happy, she ended up making some erratic career decisions.

Doreen Tracey Gets Racy

Doreen Tracey shocked fans in 1976 when she posed nude for Gallery, an adult men’s magazine. She appeared naked twice for the magazine. But that wasn’t the only shocking thing. She also wore her Mickey ears while baring it all. So Disney banned her from all subsequent Mouseketeer reunions.

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Her ban also included every other official Disney event. But posing nude triggered Tracey’s wild side. Not long after, she became the lead vocalist in a rock band she named Doreen and the Invaders. A few years later, she ended her singing career, became Frank Zappa’s publicist, and started bodybuilding.

Tommy Cole Was a Red Team Member

Tommy Cole had a passion for performing arts from a young age. His parents were unsure about this career choice, but in 1956 Cole became a member of the Red Team on The Mickey Mouse Club. Cole’s exceptional singing ability helped him move quickly to the front lines of the show.

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In fact, before becoming a Mouseketeer, he was singing in a country western band. After appearing in the show’s final two years, Cole had many other roles. He had a guest role in an episode of Leave It to Beaver in 1959 and a few Mouseketeer reunions over the years.

What Happened after the Mouseketeers?

Besides television appearances, Tommy Cole continued to be featured in the entertainment industry in various ways, especially his current work as a makeup artist. After his semi-retirement from production, he went to school at Hollywood Professional School and Pasadena City College. He also served in the United States Air Force.

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But after all that, Cole knew his passions were in makeup. He worked as an apprentice for a few networks before his work began gaining traction. That earned him several Emmy nominations. In 1979, he and his team won the Emmy for their work in Backstairs at the White House.

Cubby O’Brien Was One of the Original Mouseketeers

Cubby O’Brien is popular for being one of the first Mouseketeers. He appeared on the show for all four original seasons. Cubby learned the trade from his father, “Hack” O’Brien, who worked as a drummer for several bands. Just like Annette Funicello, Cubby was also handpicked by Walt Disney.

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But Walt didn’t see Cubby’s performance firsthand like he had seen Annette’s. Walt was sold on Cubby when one of his staff who saw him live on stage at a charity event said he would make a great fit for the cast. And so he was signed when he was eight years old.

Cubby O’Brien: Life after The Mickey Mouse Club

After the show’s fourth season, Cubby continued touring with fellow Mouseketeers for various live appearances. He also continued working as a drummer, following in his father’s footsteps. In fact, Cubby was at the drums in six Academy Award shows. He also appeared on several episodes of The Carol Burnett Show.

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Cubby notably went on tour in Nevada with Spike Jones’ band. Later, he started working on Broadway in about eight shows weekly for almost 10 years. That included the blockbuster show Annie Get Your Gun. Cubby sometimes makes Mouseketeer appearances but is mainly focused on drumming.

Karen Pendleton as a Mouseketeer

The young Karen Pendleton was an original Mouseketeer who stayed for the entirety of the show’s first run. After production of The Mickey Mouse Club ended, Karen returned to school. She got married in 1970 and gave birth to a daughter three years later. She and her husband divorced in 1985.

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Two years before that, Karen was involved in a ghastly accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. However, she didn’t give up and even went back to school, earning her Bachelor’s degree in psychology. She then advocated for social causes, including the disabled in California and shelters for battered women.

60 Years Down the Line

It was 2015 that marked 60 years since the original Mouseketeers first went live, and Disney was determined to recognize the occasion. Disney reached out to the living cast members and organized a reunion. After they were finally reunited, what else would they do but perform a song?

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Disney also went all out to make the once-in-a-lifetime event unforgettable. Cast members talked about their time on the show and recalled some of the most notable props used on set while the cameras were rolling. Fans enjoyed an outstanding event that marked the end of an era in entertainment.

The Return of the Mouseketeers

The show was revived in 1977 and called The New Mickey Mouse Club. It seemed to have a completely new perspective to share with the world. The new cast was far more diversified, and the theme music included disco in line with the times. The aesthetics on the sets were also considerably livelier.

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It was packed with bright colors, unlike the black and white artwork from the original show. Unfortunately, the reboot only ran through 1979 before being cancelled. Many of the 30+ stations that originally broadcast the show continued playing reruns for a few years after it was discontinued.

Disney Gave It Another Go with Fresh Faces

Again, the show was rebooted in 1989 as The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (or MMC as it came to be called) with new cast members. The show’s creators turned it into a ’90s-themed mix of future mega-stars such as Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears to cater to the interests of teenagers.

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Cast members entered the stage in trendy ’90s clothes rather than the famous mouse ears. This time, the remake lasted longer and aired on television until 1996. Although it was once again cancelled, several of the cast members achieved stardom. Which Mickey Mouse Club member is your favorite celebrity?

Ryan Gosling Appeared on The Mickey Mouse Club

Ryan Gosling was another cute face in the cast of the young Mouseketeers. Gosling didn’t seem to be featured in as many episodes as other cast members. However, he didn’t let that bother him because he was aware that he was surrounded by other extremely talented children.

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The first time he saw Britney and Christina perform, Gosling knew they were “freakishly” talented. But even though he wasn’t quite prepared for the major leagues like his co-stars, his time on the show still helped in his ascent to the place he currently has as one of Hollywood’s biggest names.

Ryan Gosling Has Had a Terrific Career

Gosling used MMC as a stepping-stone. After his stint as a Mouseketeer ended, he went on to bigger and better things. He first appeared on Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? and kept on with the spooky theme with Goosebumps. Gosling then moved to films.

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Gosling appeared in blockbusters such as The Notebook. He has also appeared in the movies Drive (2011) and La La Land (2016), which earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Gosling has won numerous awards throughout the years, including five Golden Globes.

Justin Timberlake Makes His Appearance

Justin Timberlake is undeniably successful in a variety of realms of entertainment. Teenage girls have been drooling over the pretty boy since his first appearance on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club in 1993. In fact, several female cast members later admitted to having a crush on him. We understand, girls. Who wouldn’t?

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Justin was the club’s golden boy at the time with his curly, blonde locks and pitch-perfect singing voice. Timberlake and Gosling became friends, not competitors, and they still remain good friends today. For Justin Timberlake, being a Mouseketeer was the beginning of a life of fame and success.

Justin Timberlake’s Career So Far

Justin Timberlake attained a lot of success early on, more than most people dream of. As a teenager, he became the lead singer for NSync, one of the most popular boy bands in history. Timberlake’s talent was glaring, and he soon branched out to start an incredible solo career.

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He had many chart-topping songs such as “Cry Me a River” in 2002. He also won respected awards, including a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 2004. Justin’s film career is also successful, starring in The Social Network and In Time. His acting has earned him multiple awards.

The Young Britney Spears

Nobody could have possibly anticipated that Britney Spears who first arrived on the set of The All-New Mickey Mouse Club would emerge as one of the biggest mega-stars of all time. She was incredibly talented. A young Britney once confessed to having a crush on Justin Timberlake.

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Justin and Britney would go on to become one of the most well-known celebrity couples in the industry. Britney used The All-New Mickey Mouse Club as a springboard to ascend quickly to the A-list and become one of the most popular figures in pop music history.

Britney Spears: A Pop Music Icon

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Britney Spears is a household name in pop. The teen queen continued to top the charts for years, releasing better songs every time, including her album . . . Baby One More Time. She’s sold more than 70 million albums.

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But Britney has navigated troubled waters. She has had meltdowns and once smashed a car window. Things started looking better after she had two sons and split from a controversial marriage with backup dancer K-Fed. Britney has battled a mental-health crisis, even checking herself into a psychiatric facility in 2019.

The Young Christina Aguilera

When Christina Aguilera showed up on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club set in 1993, she caused quite a stir among the audience and her co-stars. She was known as the little girl with the big voice because of her exceptional vocal cords. She still needed to fully develop that voice.

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But even as a young child, it was obvious that she would become a sensation in the music industry. The show’s representatives scouted Christina when she performed on Star Search and eventually signed her for three years. This child was destined for great things.

Christina Aguilera’s Career Has Gone as Expected

Christina Aguilera’s incredible vocals captivated everyone, but she took her career to the next level when she hit an almost impossible note while performing a song in Disney’s Mulan. She was a judge on the NBC show The Voice for six seasons. Aguilera is also a six-time Grammy winner.

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Aguilera continues singing and touring the world, even releasing albums and EPs lately such as Liberation, Aguilera, La Tormenta, and La Fuerza. She signed a lucrative deal with Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas to begin her residency show, just like fellow MMC castmate Britney Spears did.

Do You Remember JC Chasez?

Ardent NSync fans will remember JC Chasez. But he didn’t get the attention he deserved because Justin Timberlake stole the show. Even so, JC is an exceptionally gifted performer. His adoptive parents, who were once foster parents to his biological mother, raised him as Joshua Scott Chasez in Maryland.

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The All-New Mickey Mouse Club was his start in the entertainment industry. He auditioned after his adoptive mom saw a newspaper ad in their hometown in Maryland and urged him to try. His rendition of Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” was enough to convince producers to sign him immediately.

How Did Things Go for JC Chasez?

JC Chasez rose to stardom after the success of the boy band NSync. But after the band enjoyed a lot of success, Justin Timberlake branched out to focus on a solo career, which set NSync behind. JC was determined to continue his own musical career, writing and producing music for many hit artists.

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Some of those artists were David Archuleta and Girls Aloud. He also appeared on TV as a judge on America’s Best Dance Crew. In 2019, JC reunited with NSync (without Timberlake) alongside Ariana Grande at Coachella. As the performance ended, Chasez turned to the audience and thanked them for the opportunity.

Keri Russell in The All-New Mickey Mouse Club

Keri Russell’s first shot at television roles was on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club in 1991. It was the start of a long, successful career in Hollywood. Russell’s acting talent was obvious from the episodes she appeared in alongside Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. She was signed to a three-year contract.

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But it was non-exclusive, meaning she could take on other roles. And she was a busy teenager. She appeared in Honey I Blew Up the Kid in 1993 and took a minor role in Boy Meets World. These three years were a stepping-stone for a career that was about to soar.

A Successful Career Filled with Honors

Keri landed a starring role on Felicity in 1998, which took her from childlike to mature roles. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe Award in 1999. The second season bombed, and some fans speculated it was because Keri chopped off her long, curly locks. The show was eventually cancelled in 2002.

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But the show’s discontinuation didn’t stop Russell. She has appeared in several major motion pictures such as Mission: Impossible III and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. She also starred in the FX show The Americans, which earned her several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.

Tony Lucca Was Set for Stardom

Tony Lucca grew up performing in Michigan. He started singing and dancing by age three and started a modeling career at age nine. Tony was one of 12 children. His mother encouraged him and pushed him to go to auditions, including the one that served as his launch pad.

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At the age of 14, Lucca thought he was headed to an audition for a Disney production of Newsies. But unknown to him, he was auditioning for a Mouseketeer role, which he ended up getting. Lucca remained a member of The All-New Mickey Mouse Club for four years.

How Did Tony Lucca’s Career Turn Out?

While Tony Lucca hasn’t hit the superstar status that several of his MMC co-stars have attained, he’s done quite well in the entertainment industry. After the show’s cancellation, Lucca moved to Los Angeles to further his acting career. He was dating former castmate Keri Russell at the time.

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Together, they co-starred in Aaron Spelling’s Malibu Shores. Lucca has also appeared in a few films, including Her Last Chance. Then he pursued his music passion, releasing five albums. He competed in The Voice in 2012, placing third. Today, Lucca spends time with his family in Nashville, Tennessee.