On Disneyland’s opening day of July 17th, 1955, one of the hosts of the live television broadcast on ABC — Bob Cummings — introduced the Mouseketeers of The Mickey Mouse Club. 13-Year-Old Bobby Burgess and some of the other original Mouseketeers then came out of the Fantasyland Theater (now the location of Pinocchio’s Daring Journey). “There I was next to Mouseketeer Sharon, dancing my heart out,” Mr. Burgess recollects about the Mouseketeer’s first appearance on national television. The broadcast pre-dated the premiere of The Mickey Mouse Club by three months. “The problem was no one had ever heard of us,” he says.
I had the chance recently to talk to a Disney Legend — one of the Original Mouseketeers, Bobby Burgess — about his memories of The Mickey Mouse Club, Walt Disney and Disneyland.
There were 24 original Mouseketeers, but nine were highlighted originally. Mr. Burgess was one of them. He has vivid memories of himself, the other Mousketeers, and Walt Disney. He recalls fellow Mouseketeer Sherry walking through the studio and passing Walt. “Hi, Mouseketeer Sherry,” Walt said. Sherry couldn’t believe that Walt knew her name and ran to her mother to tell her the news. “Well, of course he knew your name,” she replied. “It’s in big letters across your shirt!”
Growing up in nearby Long Beach California, Mr. Burgess had an interesting comparison regarding Disneyland when he saw it. “I grew up going to the seaside amusement park The Pike in Long Beach,” he said when I asked him of his first impressions of the park. “Disneyland was extraordinary! It was like The Pike, but everything was Disney! There was nothing like it.”
I had the honor of walking along Main Street U.S.A. with Mr. Burgess. As he looked out onto the street, he vividly recalled the Mouseketeers moving down it on opening day. Just as fondly, he remembers the filming of a a 3-D movie that appeared in the Fantasyland Theater soon after the park opened.
Mr. Burgess’ main memory of Walt Disney was of him either at the back of a soundstage, just observing the Mouseketeers, or walking down Dopey Drive at the Burbank studio deep in thought. “He had so many projects going on,” Mr. Burgess remembers. He recalls that he and the other Mouseketeers would roam the studio and get to see artwork from upcoming Disney films, including Sleeping Beauty.
The original Mickey Mouse Club ran for four years on ABC (the fourth year was reruns) and Mr. Burgess was one of the Mouseketeers that appeared in all four seasons. Those episodes returned to television in 1975, and The Mickey Mouse Club has been revived in other incarnations with new Mouseketeers, beginning with The New Mickey Mouse Club in 1977. But the original Mouseketeers have always enjoyed a special stature, and continued to perform in the park for years after the original show was off the air.
Mr. Burgess has surreal memories of one such show in 1980 that took place outdoors on the stage currently featuring Mickey and the Magical Map. “We couldn’t rehearse when the park was open so we’d rehearse at 4:00 AM, and oftentimes a fog would roll in those early hours. We’d wonder if it was Walt in the fog! We’d finish rehearsing as the park was just beginning to start up in the morning, just before opening, and we’d ride some of the rides. We would actually warm up the Tea Cups.”
He tells a recent story of his family dog running to a neighbor’s house, only to find out it was the home of another former Mouseketeer — Justin Timberlake.
In addition to trips to Disneyland (he remarks how much he liked the Candlelight Processional narrated by Chris Hemsworth) he enjoys Walt Disney World and would like to see some of the newer overseas parks. His favorite Disney film is Bambi. He and the other Mouseketeers socialize, and can even recall old choreography. Mr. Burgess is a kind man with a fun sense of humor and generous with his time. My thanks to him and his son Robert Burgess, who helped put together this interview and my stroll down Main Street with one of the original Mouseketeers.