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Backstage With The Original 'Mickey Mouse Club'

More than 50 years ago, Walt Disney turned to television for a way to help finance and promote a new project -- Disneyland. He pitched a number of ideas for programs to ABC and, eventually, one of them interested studio executives enough for them to give it a shot.

That idea turned into The Mickey Mouse Club, a children's variety show that would grow to become a hit series that featured a wholesome cast of Mouseketeers. Author Jennifer Armstrong takes a look at the history of the show in her new book, Why? Because We Still Like You.

Armstrong tells NPR's Jennifer Ludden that The Mickey Mouse Club was only a half-baked idea when Disney first pitched it, which is, perhaps, why he ended up creating a project that involved wrangling together 24 children for a daily, hourlong television show.

"If you really think about it, what they ended up doing was this unbelievable undertaking," Armstrong says.

But after a day or two of taping, Armstrong says producers learned one of the keys to making the show work: keeping the parents away from the production.

"Even the parents who weren't necessarily stage-y parents, how can they not be constantly trying to coach their child to the front?" Armstrong says.  Once they were free of parental oversight, the children "were much better behaved."

After that, the show was an instant success.

The audience fell in love with Mouseketeers like Annette Funicello, the only actor to be handpicked by Walt Disney himself, and the 5-year-old drum-playing Cubby O'Brien.

"It was the first show for children featuring mainly children as the performers," Armstrong says. "It was very revolutionary."

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