Can you believe that the Mickey Mouse Club will be 60 years old next year? Scarlett Stahl has a great interview with Mouseketeer Bobby Burgess plus news (rumor) of a special honor for the Mouseketeers next year. ~~Rick
Ears & Bubbles
By Scarlett Stahl
Recently I met Bobby Burgess for an interview over coffee and donuts at the famous Farmers Market, next to CBS Studios in Los Angeles. Bobby has a megawatt smile and is a tall athletic man, so it was easy to spot him. In addition he has an engaging way of putting you at your ease immediately and has an upbeat positive attitude, so it was not only and informative meeting but fun as well.
Bobby Burgess was born on May 19, 1941 in Long Beach, California, the second of four children. His father was Canadian and his mother Cherokee Indian, Scotch Irish and German.
As a little kid, he would hear music on the radio and start dancing around. So at four years old, his mother gave him tap dancing lessons, which he thinks is a good dance to start with for boys. He started performing when he was five. His teacher paired him up with a little girl, Judy. They were Bobby and Judy from age five till eight. Then he became a single performer again.
He appeared in many amateur shows and an agent saw him on one of them, called the station and signed him up. The first job she sent him on was for a toothpaste ad on the Ozzie and Harriet Show, which he got. (As I said earlier, he has a mega wat smile!!!) In his book, Ears & Bubbles: Dancing My Way from The Mickey Mouse Club to The Lawrence Welk Show, Bobby tells “my mother would send my agent her ten per cent in a nice thank you note but would also put in an extra $20. My agent sent me out all the time… a very wise mother!!”
“Then I got sent out for the musical Peter Pan, which went to Broadway with Mary Martin. I was signed for three days and went to an Angel’s baseball game and lost my voice, so they let me go. But if I had gone to Broadway, I wouldn’t have gotten the Mickey Mouse Club. So things work out for the best.”
By the time he turned 11 years old, he had appeared in some 75 television shows. In 1955 his agent sent him to Walt Disney Studios for an audition to be on a children’s serial called Spin and Marty. Bobby didn’t get that job, but they liked his barefoot jazz dance to Rock Around the Clock and though he had never sung before, he sang Way Down Yonder in New Orleans and made up the words he didn’t know. So they signed him up for the new kids’ show called The Mickey Mouse Club. Bobby was one of only nine original Mouseketeers to last the entire duration of The Mickey Mouse Club from 1955 to 1959. They went to school right there on the set and were taught everything from Math to Spanish. They learned to call each other by their Spanish names, which they still do to this day….Bobby is Roberto, Tommy is Tomas and Annette is Anita, etc.
They only filmed three years and they divided the third and fourth years into half hour segments. They would go on tours and do benefits. They would go to Disneyland and dance. If they weren’t doing shows where the Pirate ride is, they would be at tables on Main Street and sign autographs. “To this day all we Mouseketeers have fancy autographs, my y’s and my g’s have a Z on them like Zorro. Annette had the hearts. That came out of playing around Main St.” There have been several reunions, which continue today.
Bobby said “We had some fun times. Like the song says: Through the years, we’ll all be friends wherever we may be…we’re still great friends. My son, Robert, is best friends with Tommy’s son, Casey.”
After the series ended, he went back for his senior year in high school and graduated in the upper two per cent because he had had “such good personal attention from his teacher at Disney.” (As you see, Bobby is also a modest man, though it’s obvious he is extremely intelligent.)
In 1961 while attending Long Beach University, he and his childhood friend (and dancing partner) Barbara Boylan entered a Calcutta dance contest held by Lawrence Welk and his orchestra. They won first prize, which was an appearance on The Lawrence Welk Show. They continued to guest on the show for the next few weeks and the response by fans was so great, that Welk hired them to remain as permanent members! Lawrence Welk always said to people “I have no trouble with Bobby as he was raised by Walt Disney.” When asked by friends just what that meant, Bobby explains “It’s not like I was raised at Disneyland. Being a Mouseketeer taught me to be a real professional – don’t touch the props, be on time, be prepared. You pay attention and learn your steps, do it right, do the best show you can do.” Bobby remained with the Lawrence Welk Show from 1961 till it ended in 1982 and they went on numerous tours around the country during those years. In fact Bobby said he had appeared in all fifty states. As a tourist at heart, instead of crashing in the hotel for a nap, he always wanted to go out and see the sights. He has continued his trips internationally with his wife and has Mardi Gras in New Orleans with his sons on his to do list. There is a large map in his home with pins on it for all the places he has been.
PBS picked up the Lawrence Welk Show in 1987 and it has been on ever since. Bobby shares duties as host with Mary Lou Metzger on the reruns.
Bobby first met Kristie Floren, the youngest daughter of five of Welk’s accordionist Myron Floren, when she was nine and he was nineteen. Welk always had an annual family Christmas show, where he would present family members and they would receive gifts from Santa. Kristie had studied ballet and ballroom cotillion, the latter interest also shared by Bobby. When Kristie was seventeen, there was a surprise encounter in Lake Tahoe as he had no idea she would be there. Bobby was on his boat by himself and there she was in a white knit swimsuit with her sister on the beach. He said he went “Whoa, there is Kristie Floren!!!! And I invited her to water ski, which she had never done before. But she skied all over Lake Tahoe and I was so impressed. Later when I needed a date for different events, I would ask her father’s permission to take her.” They were married on Valentine’s Day, 1971 and have four children and three grandchildren.
The Burgess family enjoys working together at Burgess Cotillion, where all four of his children teach, which include: manners, etiquette and ballroom dancing. It is in Long Beach and starts in the third grade, goes through fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and continues in to high school classes. He also leads cotillion classes at three middle schools in Palos Verdes, California, which lead into the high school group.
Today Burgess still dances, whether teaching young students, or out on tour with his fellow Welk stars or on occasional appearances reuniting with his fellow Mouseketeers.
To enjoy reading more about the interesting career of Bobby Burgess, there is a recently published biography, Ears and Bubbles: Dancing My Way from The Mickey Mouse Club to The Lawrence Welk Show.
Please note: 2015 will be the 60th Anniversary of the Mickey Mouse Club. The Walt Disney Company has their Disney Legend Award Ceremony during D23. It is rumored that the Mouseketeers will be honored as Legends at the event with their autographs and handprints to be cast in bronze and placed at the Walt Disney Studios Disney Legend Plaza. I certainly hope this rumor pans out to be true. . . . don’t you?!