With the next cast ready to compete for the mirror ball on season 19 of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” television’s first dancing celebrity is likely to be watching. Original Mouseketeer Bobby Burgess says he is a huge fan of DWTS as well as FOX television’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” adding that he is amazed as to what the professional dancers and celebrity hoofers can do today, things that they could only dream of back on the “Mickey Mouse Club” and the “Lawrence Welk Show.”
To speak with Bobby about his career is like taking a step back in time. He recounts his time with the original MMC and Welk Shows in his new book “Ears & Bubbles – Dancing My Way from The Mickey Mouse Club to The Lawrence Welk Show.”
In a recent phone interview about the book, Bobby fondly reflected about his time at the Disney Studios as well as being a featured dancer on the Welk Show to his work now as one of the hosts of the Welk reruns on PBS. And to hear him talk about his two favorite shows, he just bursts at the seams with excitement and you can almost see his trademark cheek-to-cheek pearly white smile that we first saw in the opening roll-call sequence on the Mickey Mouse Club nearly six decades ago.
“I was really lucky. I went from one family institution to another from Walt Disney to Lawrence Welk,” Bobby recounts, “I learned so much from the Disney Studios. I applied it to the Lawrence Welk Show.”
Burgess admits the lessons may have seemed simple back in the day on the Disney lot but they were important to his success in life. “I learned from the Disney Studios to be a professional, to be prepared, to be on time and to not touch the props,” adding that any inquisitive child on a television set or at home is always touching something they are not supposed to for one reason or another.
After being cast in a toothpaste commercial with one of television’s first families Ozzie and Harriett Nelson, an agent helped secure an audition for Bobby for a role in the original Broadway musical “Peter Pan.” He was signed to go to New York to appear in the show with Mary Martin when he lost his voice shouting at the top of his lungs at a California Angels baseball game and he was quickly cut from the production. He admits Broadway’s loss was television’s gain as his career took off in a dramatically different direction.
At the age of 13 Bobby was recruited for the “Mickey Mouse Club” and became one of the most popular members of the cast remembered for his dancing ability and of course his broad smile. When the MMC wrapped after two seasons he eventually was cast as a regular on the Lawrence Welk Show where the band leader said he never had a problem with Bobby “because he was raised by Walt Disney.”
Burgess says that it was Disney fans that encouraged him over the years to put all of his stories into a book. He would go to Disneyana conventions and recount many stories of his days working, learning and having fun on the studio lot and fans would suggest time and time again writing a book. So after sitting down and beginning the process of putting all of his thoughts on paper he says he is very happy with the outcome.
He also takes great pride in the fact that he and Mouseketeer Sherry Alberoni may have played a part in the revival of the Mouse Club in 1989. Burgess says he and Alberoni were touring 25 cities for Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday in 1988 and one stop was Bloomingdale’s in New York City. He says there was a large crowd gathered to see the two Mouseketeers and get autographs. Among those packed into the department store were Disney CEO Michael Eisner and his wife Jane. Bobby says Eisner told his wife, “Jane look at the crowd that is here for the Mouseketeers. Let’s form a new Mickey Mouse Club and let’s see how that does. And see if it does as well as the original.” Burgess contends the new Mickey Mouse Club was born at Bloomingdale’s because of that response to him and Alberoni.
This happily-married to the same woman for 43 years, father of four and grandfather to three shows no sign of letting up. He continues to work as the host for the PBS version of the “Lawrence Welk Show” and continues to attend Disney fan-ebrations and is looking forward to next year’s D23 convention in Los Angeles which is likely to recognize the 60th anniversary of Disneyland and the Mickey Mouse Club. He is equally excited about the prospects that the original class of Mousketeers could be inducted as Disney Legends, the most coveted honor bestowed on those folks who have worked for the Walt Disney Company.
While my talk with Bobby could have lasted for hours it was time to wrap up my interview and after thanking him for his time, Bobby seized the opportunity to say farewell in true Mouseketeer fashion.
“Now it’s time to say goodbye to all our company. M-I-C. See you real soon! K-E-Y. Why? Because we like you. M-O-U-S-E.”
“Ears & Bubbles – Dancing My Way from The Mickey Mouse Club to The Lawrence Welk Show,” is published by Theme Park Press and is available as a soft cover and an eBook on Amazon.com as well as ordering through local bookstores nationwide.