12/23/10 - kids can be cruel

In today's excerpt - The Mickey Mouse Club television show was cancelled in 1958 after three seasons, and almost all the Mouseketeers, who were pre-teens and teenagers, found themselves out of work and trying to reenter normal life. Very few received help from Disney or were able to sustain careers in the entertainment world, and most went on to lives filled with disappointment. Even returning to their former schools proved daunting:

"The clash between the [ex-]Mouseketeers' former selves still on television in reruns, and the teenagers careening toward adulthood who they now were, highlighted the larger conflict that would mar their lives for years to come: the idyllic '50s sensibility their screen images represented versus the hipper grown-ups they were trying to become. 'After a while it was a part of my life that I wanted over, and it just wouldn't die,' Dennis Day said in an interview. 'There were all those reruns, and people kept recognizing me.'

"This conflict first played itself out in the halls of the schools to which the Mouseketeers were hoping to return quietly and without incident. Kids in Karen Pendleton's seventh-grade class would ask her for her autograph, but when the guileless middle-schooler would give it to them, they'd tear it up in front of her. 'What a time to go back to school,' she says. 'There were so many kids who were mean to me. They'd gather around me at lunchtime, and the vice principal would have to come and get me out. It did no wonders for my self-esteem, which was already low anyway.' Her classmates would say things like, 'Wiggle your ears and I'll give you some cheese.' Some boys threw a worm at her. All she could do was wait for the novelty of torturing a former Mouseketeer to wear off, which would take longer than she'd hoped: 'Even through high school and a couple of times in college, people would still say things to me. And dating was hard. It was hard to do, to be attached to a Mouse.'

"Don Agrati, a tiny thirteen-year-old, acquired the nickname 'Mouse' the second he returned to public school and suffered from the same unoriginal—though still hurtful—teasing methods his first love, Karen, was also enduring. Kids would sing 'The Mickey Mouse Club March' whenever he entered the cafeteria. 'I was in fights every day and I was just miserable,' he recalls. 'So my parents took me out of the school. They said, 'You know what, you need to start over again. And the same thing's going to happen. You have to respond, react differently this time.' The same thing, the exact same thing, happened the first day I was at the cafeteria in the new school. I walked in, they started singing The Mickey Mouse Club song. But this time I just joined in. And it worked. That was it. I just needed to do that once and it was like they saw that I was fun and it was over.'

"Tommy Cole had to switch schools too because of his ex-Mouseketeer status. His hometown school wasn't forgiving of the classwork he'd missed while on The Mickey Mouse Club, even though he'd been attending to his studies in the studio-lot trailers as required by law. He tried to return to John Muir High School in Pasadena, but he couldn't catch a break. 'John Muir had no idea what a show kid was, none whatsoever,' he recalls. 'They did not give me a bit of slack on anything. They gave me a real hard time, and my parents finally pulled me out of there. I finished up my high school at Hollywood Professional School because they understand showbiz there."


Jennifer Armstrong


Why? Because We Still Like You: An Oral History of the Mickey Mouse Club


Grand Central


Copyright 2010 by Jennifer Armstrong


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