Monday, April 6, 2009

Q&A with mouseketeer Lonnie Burr

Q&A with one of the original Mouseketeers, Lonnie Burr

Q. What made you decide to write your book?

A. I had written one hundred pages into a satirical approach to the MMC experience in book form after my terse satirical piece on the Mickey Mouse Club was published in the Village Voice: Confessions of a Mouseketeer (1975). The book title was Confessions of a Mad Mouseketeer. My agent could find no interest, so I “drawered” it. After turning sixty, I looked at it again and decided that it would be a good story as PART of my life, 53 years and counting since the MMC. Then I worked on it on and off until late 2007, and had a viable manuscript.

Q. You must get tired of getting Mickey Mouse Club questions. What would you like to be asked about?

A. How I have managed to avoid the tabloids, scandal, problems with drugs, the law and the other substantive quagmires that child stars fall into, and have a continuing career in acting, dancing/choreography, song and dance and directing, as well as my published poetry, plays, books, newspaper-magazine-ezine reviews, articles, comedy, etcetera, functioning on rare occasions as an educator and remained solvent, if not affluent, for all these years since I turned pro in 1948 at age 5.

Q. Any advice for child actors these days, or their parents?

A. In one of my articles against kids going into showbiz professionally, I quoted a Noel Coward lyric: “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington…” and added “nor your son.” It is fine for a child, motivated only by him or her self, as opposed to one or both parents, to perform as an amateur in or outside of school, and to take lessons. When the constant rejection – only one child, out of the hundreds at the audition, will succeed so most are losers – and the formidable stress of money/greed – more so now than in my youth – are added together, failure quickly manifests itself. Or if the child is successful at the time, failure comes later on when the child can no longer be a child because a new person has evolved and the former child is punished for being something different

Growing up is difficult enough – with family dysfunctions, school socialization and work, hormonal changes, identity crises and all the rest – but to add money and pressure to the process is CRUEL. Period. Once high school is over, better, when eighteen is reached, turning professional is a young adult’s life-choice, whether wrong or right.

Q. What’s the one thing the average person doesn’t know about MMC or Walt himself?

A. MMC: That the show ran originally in 18 countries and was translated into five other languages, and that it has rerun in the U.S. in the ‘60s, ‘70s (bringing forth the short lived New Mickey Mouse Club), from 1983-1989 starting off The Disney Channel and, after the last “Earless” incarnation of the show (1989-1995), our old black and white films ran from 1995 through September, 2002 – thus connecting with at least three generations and two centuries.

Walt: His primary focus at the time was Disneyland and his TV success in 1954 led ABC, now owned by Disney, to give him $1.5 million to finish his Anaheim park – IF he provided a new children’s program five days a week. The MMC was not his primary, nor secondary, concern.

Q. What are your favorite TV shows today?

A. After the best series ever, The West Wing, yielding high drama, hilarious comedy AND pristine, ambiguous, moral and ethical choices – what Edward Albee called in dialogue “the teaching emotion” – nothing compares favorably, so mostly reruns of sitcoms and episodic dramas that I favored previously.

24 is like old time movie serials: lightning quick, always resolved in the hero’s favor and, most importantly, gives the viewer the chance to see what life is really like in dangerous intelligence work, with the lead taking the right but hypocritically “socially wrong” actions needed for the John Stuart Mill “good of all humanity” mixed in with being a human, superhero 007, and the expedience of the Charles Bronson vigilante in a world where everyone, except the terrorists, feels powerless.

Excerpt from Confessions of an Accidental Mouseketeer by Lonnie Burr:


Before I acted in films with Elvis, Dustin Hoffman and Jean-Claude Van Damme; before I danced and sang with Ginger Rogers, Sammy Davis and Carol Channing; before I directed and took over the lead in my first produced play, was awarded for my poetry, reviewed theatre and film or signed my first published book; before I performed on Broadway with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters; before I was directed by Spielberg and Fosse and Gower Champion; before I became a permanent part of the Smithsonian Museum of American History; before I received my high school diploma six days after turning fifteen and finished my M.A. at nineteen; before I dated Barbara Parkins and had sex with a hooker in Paris on a Disney expense account at eighteen; before I attempted to take my life at twenty ---- I accidentally became a permanent part of pop culture.

I am certainly not a legend, nor a David Copperfield hero of my life, but I have been lumbered with brobdingnagian, iconic ears since the age of eleven when I became one of the four boy Mouseketeers to last the entire filming of the original Mickey Mouse Club (1955-59).

Thus, I foreshadowed Warhol’s cynical, hackneyed quote about everyone having his or her fifteen minutes of fame, except my allegedly fleeting celebrity has lasted over six decades and will inevitably dominate my obituary, ending not with a whimper but with a squeak.

The very first time I wore a claustrophobic, smelly, wool bear suit with chafing muslin padding, peering out from the bear head’s nostrils as best I could as I sweated profusely and danced to “The Humphrey Hop” in take after take as my persona Mouseketeer Lonnie on Stage 1 of the Disney Studios in Burbank, California, we were filming the first season of the popular kid’s series in 1955. I had just turned twelve.

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