Mickey Mouse – The Mouse’s Tale – Page 3

“I’ve worked in Disneyland now for over 30 years and have changed since the early days.

I mention a picture in the album showing Mickey with Dopey and Grumpy outside the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. “Oh, that must have been ‘thirty-seven, the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I gate-crashed! Walt and I were going through a rather rocky spell around then. Donald was making picture after picture and I was lucky if I made one or two a year. So I got a bit crabby and Walt tried to placate me with a part in this musical extravaganza he was working on at the time. Personally, I wasn’t keen.”

Would he rather not discuss it? “Heck, no! I’d already done several musicals for Disney, of course. One of the best was my first film in colour, The Band Concert, made in 1935. That was really wild! I had to conduct an open-air performance of the William Tell Overture in the teeth of a raging tornado that carried us all over the place before dropping us in a tree! At the end, I wanted to say: ‘Pluto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!’ but Walt wouldn’t hear of it. This other musical, however, was something else altogether! I had to wear an outrageous costume that, frankly, made me look a bit of a faggot, and do a kind of aquatic ballet with several hundred extremely temperamental broomsticks. They got in some Polish guy with a funny name to conduct the music – all hellishly highbrow – and there was a lot of other weird stuff in the film as well. I haven’t seen it in years, but I remember a bunch of extras from The Lost World, some knock-kneed ostriches, a lot of very unpleasant goblins from Russia – this was long before Gorbachov, of course – and a troupe of midgets who looked like toadstools! Walt called it Fantasia. I never did find out why. They tell me it’s considered a classic today. No accounting for tastes!” I ask about his eventual retirement from movies in 1953. “I’d made a picture called The Simple Things, it was set in Cape Cod or somewhere, with Pluto and I on a fishing trip. Sure was a boring movie! Pluto got most of the laughs, of course, and even the seagulls were funnier than I was! I just knew it was time to chuck the whole thing in. I did work in television for a few years in the ‘fifties, hosting The Mickey Mouse Club five nights a week. Mostly it featured a mob of frighteningly talented kids wearing Mickey Mouse- eared hats. What was really cranky was the end of the shows when they all sat round singing a kind of hymn to me: ‘M – I – C (See you real soon!) K – E – Y (Why? Because we like you!) M – 0 – U – S – E !‘ I mean that’s bizarre!”

“My surprise party at Disneyland with iced cheesecake and, luckily, no sign of Donald Duck...”

So what brought him back to movies in the ‘eighties? “What d’you think? Money! It was 1983 and the picture was called Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Same old story: name in the title, next to nothing to do on screen. Really it was a vehicle for Donald’s Uncle Scrooge McDuck.”

And how like his Dickensian namesake was he? “A tight-wad, you mean? Hell, no! It’s just an act – he modelled himself on Jack Benny, I think; and like Jack, he’s generosity itself. Rich as Croesus – made his money in comic books, I believe – but he’d give you the earth. This cocktail set came from him and that’s a real ruby on the end of the swizzle-stick. Anyway, the best thing about the film was that for the first time I got more lines than Donald Duck. He was livid! Didn’t speak to me for a whole year. Best year of my life!”

What does he think of present-day movies. “Not much. But then I guess I’m just getting old. A lot of it seems to be the kind of Spielberg-Lucas space-fantasy stuff, which I’m afraid I don’t go for at all. I guested in the latest Disney-Spielberg movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but I even thought that was a bit off-the-wall. Heaven only knows how that Rabbit’s become such a mega- star. Seemed like a bag of nerves to me. Even Bugs Bunny found him difficult to get on with him. Perhaps he’s a distant relative of Oswald!”

Being the official host may look easy, but smiling at more than 250 million guests takes real dedication!”

And will Mickey be making more movies? “Who knows? Maybe. McDuck would like to invest in a picture, so I could probably raise the cash. I’ve talked with Willie the Whale about a remake of Moby Dick – Ray Bradbury would write the screenplay for us like a shot – but it’s probably a non-starter. After I saw Ruthless People, I did think of doing something along similar lines – Mean Mice or whatever – but, let’s face it, Minnie is no Bette Midler!”

Mickey looks at his Ronald Reagan wrist-watch and sighs. “You’ll have to excuse me now, but I really do have to get down to that Dog Pound.” I point out that we haven’t talked about his birthday. “Who cares? After all, what’s so special about being sixty? I’ve got more than a touch of rheumatics – Doe’s recommended me to try green-lipped mussels, would you believe? – my eyesight’s not what it was and if it wasn’t for Grecian 2000 I’d be greyer than John Forsyth! Why not come back when I’m seventy or eighty or as old as Bob Hope?”

As I rise to leave, I hesitantly ask whether I might have a signed photograph – for my children, of course. He smiles but shakes his head. “It’s not allowed, I’m afraid. Studio rules. Besides, I’ve lousy handwriting – one of the problems of having to wear these stupid gloves all the time! Anyway, the kids wouldn’t appreciate it. A signed photo of C3PO maybe, but not Mickey Mouse. We might as well face it, kids aren’t what they were!” Then, with the flicker of a smile, he adds, “But then, who is?”

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Printed in Animator Issue 23 (Summer 1988)