Confessions of A Mouseketeer
by Jeff Swanson
I remember now that the first New Mickey Mouse Club episode I ever saw was a Showtime Day.
Not sure exactly when
I started watching NMMC, but it wasn't right when it began. Soon after. Seems
to me it was in 1976. I was 13, and in 7th grade. Not sure when I started
taping the shows. Ultimately I had 10 or 11 cassette tapes filled with show
stuff, and music and such. Every weekday at 5, I'd be there in front of the
black and white television in my room with the cassette recorder propped up
right under the speaker, and if anything seemed interesting, I'd press Record+Play
and get it on tape.
I sure had a motley assortment of tapes, Memorex and Realistic and TDK and whatever I could find or borrow or trade for. Ultimately, I had just about every good song you can think of the "I give myself very good advice..." song from Alice In Wonderland (which I called "Allison Wonderland"), "Go Where The Wind Blows", "Lavender Blue" (which was such a beautiful song, and I really hated the Disney sound effects they stuck in there to comedy it up, as if they were self-conscious about it). And not just the songs, many of the non-song sequences I had, sometimes with my buddy and me making snide comments throughout.
At first I was the only Mouseketeer geek in school, writing my little stories
and all. But soon my friend Karl got in on the action. He decided he loved
Lisa too. Out of all the Mice, he had to pick her, the bastard. Later,
I networked with a couple of other guys. One guy named Tony turned out to
be a real hardcore fan, with all sorts of photos and snapshots. In fact
I forgot I had this! Here's a real nice 5 x 7 of Allison and Kelly that I
got from Tony in 1978. Not sure where he got it maybe his mom worked
in publicity, and it was some publicity still or something. (Just found out
it was taken by Karen Tjaden at Todd's confirmation, and Tony must've gotten
it from the Kelly fan club Karen ran in those days.)
Anyway, Karl and I would sometimes watch the show in color at his house, and have the tape recorder on. And we'd make our little comments. There were those Mice we loved, and those we hated. Scott, of course, we loathed, because he was our main competition for Lisa. We hoped maybe he'd hit it off with Kelly instead, but she seemed paired with Todd, if anybody. Julie, we agreed, had the best ass of all the Mouseketeers. Kelly was certainly quite fetching, and Shawnte no slouch, and of course there was Allison's simple grace and elegance. But we loved Lisa...and we were faithful.
I had the horseback riding
sequence, with Julie, Lisa and Shawnte, and of course hang-gliding with Lisa
and Scott, and Todd and Allison in some old museum place with turn of the
century stuff and Allison singing "Hello Central" with the middle-aged
curator of the place (where all Todd got to do was go, "Gee!")
The Holy Grail of home
taping (natch, for 2 Lisa fanatics) was "Won't Somebody Dance With Me".
I'd seen it maybe twice, but by the time I had the presence of mind to have
the tape recorder always there, it never showed up again! I was never able
to get that one on tape!
(I sure got creative with
those tapes. I even made talk shows, with snippets of actual dialog dropped
in at convenient times.)
I remember a hell of a
lot of audio from those cassettes. I remember the Molly Ringwald Showtime
episode to this day, and remember how she told the audience how when she was
5, she heard her first jazz singer, Bessie Smith. She then sang "Nobody
Knows You When You're Down And Out". I remember the blooper shows, which
were awesome, and the behind-the-scenes shows (they were both cool because
you got to see a spontaneous and candid side of them). I loved the show where
they highlighted a performance from Disneyland, or Disneyworld, not sure which...I
remember practically the whole lineup of that show! Lisa did ventriliquism
with her dummy Arthur, and Julie "tap-danced up a storm for us",
and they all sang a great song called "We're Children" which morphed
into "Everything Is Beautiful"...it was very stirring! And Lisa
said at the end, "Entertaining sure is hard work...but when everybody
likes ya, it's all worth it...can't wait for the next show!"
My memories of the New
Mickey Mouse Club are mainly, you see, in audio.
"You're Really Terrific",
"Taco And A Burger"...I even remember many of my comments. (I liked
anytime they dished on Scott in any way shape or form when Kelly patted
his stomach, during TAB, while singing, "You can do without the burger!"
I remember I laughed my ass off.) Another great one, the Daytime-TV extravaganza
("It's morning, it's morning, the sun is on the rise!"), where they
spoofed commericals and soap operas and game shows. Some incredible acting
from Lisa ("He was found and raised...by a pack of wooooooolves!")
The tapes, unfortunately, are all gone. I wish like hell I still had them, but they got lost when I moved out of the house. No, actually I just left them. I was 18 now, and didn't care about that old phase. I just left them, and they got thrown away. What a total drag.
* * *
In junior high, I was just this Lisa fanatic, and writing my book, The Lisa Dillon Saga, where I renamed her Lisa Dillon and relocated us to Dallas (I can't remember if I started that before I knew she came from Fort Worth, or if I just thought Dallas was cooler. I'd never been to Dallas anyway, so it really could have been anywhere.) I started off as just me, but ultimately morphed into an alter ego named Kerry Garrett, which I figured was a pretty cool name.
But I had originally been
fond of Allison. When I first started watching the show, Allison leaped out
at me. I started thinking about her all of the time, and since thinking about
her wasn't enough, I started writing a book about us! In this book, I knew
Alison and hung out with her and she was in love with me. I put some notebook
paper in a binder and just started writing in the evenings. And at dull moments
at school like during class.
That very first work was entitled simply "FANTASY", and written in pencil on spiral-bound notebook paper. All I remember about that was that I hung out with the Mouseketeers and we went to the Marina, where I impressed them all by climbing a very tall mast and leaping into the water from a great height. (I lost that book. That was the last book I ever lost I carefully saved most everything else I ever wrote after that.)
The earliest handwritten
work I have here, called "Me + Alison" (I didn't get the extra "l"
until later) begins with me arriving at a taping and having the director call
Alison over. I guess the backstory that I never got around to writing was
that I'd written her letters, explaining how much I loved her, and of course
she was immediately in love with me as well. However, Lisa and Kelly fell
in love with me too. Inevitably, I came into conflict with Scott, who threatened
to beat me up because I loved his girl Alison. But I beat him up instead.
Soon after, there was an earthquake. I ran over to Alison's house (relocated
near mine in the San Fernando Valley), and with a huge Hulkian burst of strength,
pulled off some heavy rocks and saved her life.
Before long, the plot
thickened when Lisa began to try and seduce me. I stood my ground. I loved
Alison! But Lisa would not be stopped! She even enrolled at my Junior High!
Now everybody was envious of me because this mouseketeer was in love with
This was a sign of things
to come. Lisa took over the book. From then on, I never wrote about me and
Alison ever again. (Sorry, Allison!)
These stories grew into
the Lisa Dillon Saga, which saw us through our first meeting in the supermarket
(love at first sight love at page 1...didn't want to waste any time), through
a hurricane, off to camp, and many other adventures. By this time, my friend
Karl was in on it too. He was writing his own Lisa Dillon Saga, only his Lisa
was named Lisa Sinclair. She was, of course, the spitting image of Lisa Dillon.
In a surprising twist, and a bit of stunt casting, I had the two Lisas meet
up at camp and decide to play a trick on the boys by switching, but the ruse
was discovered, and it all worked out in the end.
Around this time, I got
a typewriter, and started typing this stuff instead. The Lisa Dillon Saga
grew and took many different forms. I'd often stop it and reconceive it and
start over. You can see throughout the books how my writing talent was growing
and maturing, as I basically used my mouseketeer fantasies as a writing training
Kerry Garrett developed
on his own, and eventually went solo. Meanwhile, I started a new book called
"The Newest Mouseketeer" (illustrated with a custom drawing taped
to the cover of the blue pressboard binder), about another alter-ego named
Mark Marshall, who was brought in by Disney to jazz up the lineup. The regular
Mice were basically just background characters by this time, for Mark fell
in love with the new female mouseketeer, Sharon Anderson. I renamed all the
Mice by this time as well, to avoid lawsuits (I'd written to Disney and had
been told I couldn't use the word "mouseketeer" in my title, so
I figured they'd be a stickler about the actual names). I even began to invent
relatively sophisticated and interesting personalities for them. (I remember
that I fully intended to get this book published.)
One day I rode my bike
down to Disney Studios to look around, maybe get some ideas for my book. I
didn't go inside I knew I wouldn't get in, and I didn't even try. I just
kinda rode around and looked through fences and tried to get an idea of the
lay of the place. Unfortunately, I saw no mouseketeers.
This all lasted beyond when the show was canceled, until about the end of Junior High. When high school started, I left the mouseketeers behind and turned to other writings and other alter-egos.
* * *
A friend of mine named
Todd told me one day at school that he actually knew Lisa Whelchel. That is,
she happened to go to his church, the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys, here
in the San Fernando Valley. That pretty much turned me into a Christian.
I went for about a month
of Sundays, and finally one Sunday, she appeared! Lisa herself! I was thunderstruck.
Her presence caused quite a stir among all us kids we were all in a youth
group who did all sorts of activities, including a sort of pre-Church service
meeting, and that's where she showed up. I remember her wearing a tan blazer
over an orangey turtleneck and tan bellbottoms. With the famous Lisa wings
in her hair. She was just beautiful, and I was terribly excited to be so near
this luminous, sparkling clear person there in church that day (that's the
thing about famous people in person, they're so clear, so sharply detailed,
as opposed to the soft focus of TV).
I thought and thought
about how to get closer to her, how to talk to her. She was sitting in the
one pew behind me. She was hanging out with people that I knew. She was chewing
gum, and handed out pieces, and gave me one. Doublemint. I think she was wearing
lip gloss too, for I seem to remember a persistent shiny highlight on her
lower lip. I sat and listened to her talk to the others before the service:
"All that stuff you have to do you ever just get sick of it?"
a girl asked. "Well, no...just a little nauseous, I guess," Lisa
said, laughing. I just enjoyed listening to that accent of hers, that famous
Later at the church service,
she hung out with our gang as well, as we sat in the high bleachers in the
balcony, way above the rest of the congregation. It was a heady experience
being so near to her. Later that night, we all gathered in the youth hall
to watch a film (Thief In The Night, maybe, the Rapture classic), and she
was there then too. I tended to be sort of obnoxious when I wanted a girl
to notice me. I was goofing around with this cute little girl who was hanging
around with me. She had a hand puppet, and during the film I was playing keepaway
with it. They were all being quiet, watching the movie, and here I am goofing
around with this child.
I actually turned around,
hissed, "Lisa!" she looked over I tossed the hand puppet to
her. I so badly wanted to make contact somehow. Lisa reached over and gave
the puppet back to the little girl. I felt like an ass. But I came away from
the total experience with a warm glow. And, I even wrote about it optimistically
in my diary.
That was basically that. I didn't go to church much after that. I'd had my spiritual visitation.
* * *
In high school, I became a yell-leader (a male cheerleader) for the Bee squad.
Kelly Parsons was a Varsity cheerleader. Everybody knew who she was and her
history and all, but as far as I know, her celebrity wasn't even an issue.
NMMC had been so long before, anyway...
Kelly and I didn't orbit in the same social circles (even though we were both cheerleaders), so I didn't ever really even talk to her, much less tell her the story I just told you. Sure, I interfaced with her a couple of times, like once when I rode along and we picked her up at her condo. My only impression of her was that she was a nice person, sweet, on the quiet side.
We didn't practice together, our two squads, but we did all go to cheerleading
camp at U.C. Santa Barbara in the summer of 1980. One night while we were
there, all us guys were goofing around in togas, roaming the hallways, causing
a ruckus. I rang for the elevator to go upstairs, and when the doors opened
there was Kelly, by herself. I grinned at her and she laughed to see
me in my ridiculous getup. An amazing moment to look back on me, wrapped
in a bedsheet toga (over shorts and socks), alone in a UCSB dorm elevator
with Kelly Parsons.
Later, we all took over the lobby. I had this big old boombox and tapes (always
tapes) full of new wave songs, and the girls were dancing and carrying on.
At one point, Kelly came up and requested I play "Whip It" again.
Everybody at camp just loved that song. I quickly found it and blasted it,
and all the cheerleaders danced.
(This picture is from the 1982 Senior Yearbook.)