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Interview: Bobby Burgess on Life at Walt Disney Studios

Interview: Bobby Burgess on Life at Walt Disney Studios

Former
Mouseketeer Bobby Burgess has had one of Hollywood’s most unique careers. He
worked on the original Mickey Mouse Club
during one of the most embryonic periods for Walt Disney and his studio. Then
he waltzed gracefully from one icon to another as a longtime member of Lawrence
Welk’s “musical family,” effectively side-stepping the massive cultural sea
changes of the ‘60s. That was a rare feat, but only one aspect of the life he
shares in his new memoir, Ears and
Bubbles: Dancing My Way from The Mickey Mouse Club to The Lawrence Welk Show
.

GREG EHRBAR:          You did the Mickey Mouse Club at a time the Walt Disney
Studios was firing on all cylinders with projects in every direction. Animation,
live-action films, television, and the opening of Disneyland happened all
around you. Were you kids aware of it all?

BOBBY BURGESS:                  Oh, yeah. That’s for sure. In 1955, Walt Disney was
really busy at that time.  He was running
Disneyland, doing the Mickey Mouse Club,
he was in the final stages of Lady and the
Tramp
and he was doing Sleeping
Beauty
.

GREG:             Did
you get to explore the studio lot? 

BOBBY:           Me? I’m a real “tourist!” I’d go next door to the next
soundstage to watch Walt Disney delivering his introductions to the Disneyland TV show. It was dark everywhere
but on the set, and there he would be doing his intros. That was a lot of fun,
I did that quite a few times.

GREG: 
 
          Did you and the other
kids get to go to the theatre to watch things while they were in production?

BOBBY:           Oh,
yeah. We could just walk in there and sit down. It seems to me they were
redubbing Peter Pan at that time, but Lady
and the Tramp
was being sound mixed. And there was one time when I went
exploring around Walt Disney’s office. The door was open and he wasn’t there,
so I just kind of peered in. Right there were the Seven Dwarfs statuettes he
got at the Academy Awards.

GREG:             You
went right into his office? How did you get past his staff?

BOBBY:           Nobody
was there. I think it was the lunch break or maybe it was after hours. We spent
a lot of time at that studio. I also saw an easel with little drawings of
Sharon and me. I thought, that’s strange, what’s that all about?  There was a sketch of us in action—Mouseketeer
ears, big smiles, name shirts and legs kicking up in the air. Now, I knew we
were going to do the Jitterbug on the show the next day. So, we were
storyboarded just like a cartoon! I didn’t realize they were doing that until I
went exploring.  Nobody every explained
it to us.

GREG:             I
wonder who did those, or if they still exist.

BOBBY:           I don’t know, but it was be great to
see them!

GREG:             Very
often the Mickey Mouse Club would tie
into Disney movies that were in production. There was a “Guest Star Day”
segment where you and some of the Mouseketeers met Helene Stanley, who played
Polly Crockett and was the live action model for Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.

BOBBY:           That was an outstanding moment for me. I was selected to be
her Prince Charming to dance “Once Upon a Dream” with her. She had already
modeled for the role of Sleeping Beauty so the animators could actually watch
her movements and make them look fluid. I think we danced the same steps as in
the movie. 

GREG: 
           Let me ask you about
something I’ve wanted to know since I was little. You did lots of those
Mousekartoon introductions…

BOBBY:           (singing)
“Time to twist our Mouseka-dial to the right and the left with the great big
smile/This is the way we get to see a Mousekartoon for you and me.”  All of us wanted to be part of that. Some
were more lucky to get chosen than others. We’d open the little box and out
would come a note saying what the cartoon was going to be.

GREG: 
           And that is what I
always wondered: Was that a real drawer? What did it look like inside?

BOBBY:           It was a real drawer, painted black inside. It was really
big so you couldn’t miss grabbing that little card. You’d take out the card and
read what it said, something like, “The Mousekartoon for today is…“Mickey’s
Revue,” or whatever it happened to be. The Mickey
Mouse Club
was in black-and-white, so the Studio was able to reach back and
got a lot of those great classic cartoons that were so popular.

GREG:            
Can we talk about The Rainbow Road to Oz?  You were gonna be the Scarecrow.

BOBBY:           We
introduced it on a great color segment of the weekly TV show. It was great to
work with Walt Disney and have lines with him and all. We got lots of good
reaction to the show. We sang “Up We Go the Rainbow Road to Oz” in this huge
cake. But the movie just didn’t go forward. We never found out what happened, but
what we did get to do was a highlight of being a Mouseketeer. Really fun.

GREG: 
          
It must have been cool
to be the Scarecrow because you got to do that eccentric dancing like Ray
Bolger.

BOBBY:           Right,
right. We had the choreographer from the Mickey
Mouse Club
, Tommy Mahoney who gave us some moves.  In fact, I’ve used a lot of those moves from
the Mickey Mouse Club even from that
dance, when I had to do a scarecrow dance on the Lawrence Welk show.  So, every little bit I learned throughout my
career I use in my choreography.

GREG: 
           There’s a lot in the
book about The Lawrence Welk Show
that I learned for the first time—and that chapter of “Welkisms” is
laugh-out-loud funny. Like when he called you “Backy Bob” or when he asked the
Cheese Queen of Wisconsin to come up on stage and “cut the cheese.”

BOBBY:           He really said those things! The band would laugh so he
would turn around, give them a “look,” whack his backside with his baton and
they would stop. It was almost like Saturday
Night Live
.

GREG: 
           Speaking of that, have
you seen the most recent Lawrence Welk
spoofs on Saturday Night Live? His
legacy of being a engaging character has stood the test of time.

BOBBY:           That’s
right. Fred Armisen does such a good job. Then they do something like the
Lennon Sisters and there’s the lady with the funny arms!

GREG
           We should point out, for
full disclosure, that your book also reveals, Mr. Bobby “Tops in Taps” Burgess,
that you may be a consummate performer with vast dancing talent, impeccable
coordination and a vast career to prove it, but you’re not “Mr. Perfect.” You
fell down over Lawrence Welk’s bubbles—and you’ve also had some
gastrointestinal issues.

BOBBY:           (laughing)
You’re right! I don’t hold much of anything back. If folks read the book they’ll find out about those things
and more. It’s not gross, but I tell some good stories.

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