Bobby Burgess, known to generations of fans as a Mouseketeer on the original Mickey Mouse Club and then as a dancing star on The Lawrence Welk Show, recounts his eventful life in this official autobiography full of humorous, heartwarming tales and behind-the-scenes showbiz stories.
You'll meet Bobby's fellow Mouseketeers as well as the all-important people in back of the Mouse-ka-Camera, including Mrs. Seaman, who taught the Mouseketeers in the Red Schoolhouse on the Studio lot between film shoots and rehearsals, and "Jack the Clanker", whose romantic designs on Annette Funicello brought out the beast in her protective parents.
Then, Bobby takes you from the Mouse to the Maestro, from the "ears" to the "bubbles", as he becomes one of the leading performers on The Lawrence Welk Show, and shares his memorable encounters with the Hollywood elite, his fellow Welk dancers and musicians, and the often eccentric fans who enlivened the show's national tours.
In Ears & Bubbles, you'll share the feel-good moments of Bobby's life, including:
Put on your ears—and your dancing shoes—and join Bobby Burgess on a family-friendly, up-tempo journey from ears to bubbles!
Chapter 1: Born to Dance
Chapter 2: What's a Mouseketeer?
Chapter 3: We're a Hit
Chapter 4: Where Do I Go from Here?
Chapter 5: The Next Big Break
Chapter 6: The Welk Family
Chapter 7: Changing Partners
Chapter 8: Lawrence Welk
Chapter 9: Welkisms
Chapter 10: On the Road
Chapter 11: All Over the Map
Chapter 12: Cotillion Master
Chapter 13: Around the World
Chapter 14: The Best of Times
Chapter 15: All in a Day's Work
Chapter 16: Lucky Me
Chapter 17: Farewells
Lawrence Welk once said, “I never had any trouble with Bobby because he was raised by Walt Disney.” What a wonderful quote, and one that I will never forget. I was one lucky guy going from one family institution to another.
Imagine appearing on the three original seasons of The Mickey Mouse Club (1955-1959) and then having several generations of kids worldwide enjoy the show through reruns that lasted over thirty years. Even today the original Mickey Mouse Club is available on DVD and my own grandkids get to see me singing and dancing as a child.
What wonderful memories I have to share with you about those early years with my fellow Mouseketeers—and beyond, because we’re still doing Disney shows, conventions, and appearances to this day. In fact, many of the Mouseketeers are like a second family to me, and we still see each other often. And with the 60th anniversary of The Mickey Mouse Club coming in 2015, I’d call that an incredibly successful run of both the show and the friendships that have lasted through the decades.
Being one of the lucky “roll-call” Mouseketeers who appeared in every episode of the original series, that time brings back lots of great memories of my fellow Mice and the fun, hard work and incredible journey we shared. We spent a lot of time together, because not only did we film at the Disney Studio, but we often appeared at Disneyland and even went on the road to meet and greet the thousands of young fans who tuned in to The Mickey Mouse Club every day.
When we were kids we really didn’t appreciate what was going on around us…the success of the show, the ability to ride the attractions at Disneyland to our hearts content, and the privilege it was to work with Walt Disney himself. But today, all of us realize what a profound time it was. In the mid 1950’s the Disney Studio was in full swing with animated classics in the making such as Sleeping Beauty and Lady and the Tramp, television production being stepped up with our show and the weekly Disneyland series, and Walt Disney walking the Studio grounds every day getting ready to open the world’s first theme park, Disneyland. Even with all the goings-on, Mr. Disney managed to keep a close eye on us kids on the set, albeit somewhat covertly from behind the scenes. More about that later.
And then, just three years after The Mickey Mouse Club ended, I became a regular dancing cast member on The Lawrence Welk Show, a series that ultimately proved to be one of television’s longest running and best loved musical variety hours, still in reruns today. I had twenty-one years of dancing up a storm with three different dancing partners on the show. And not only did I get to dance and sing with all the other cast members every week but we often traveled around the country through those years, and still do today, appearing at fairs, festivals, and theaters-in-the-round, and we even entertained regularly in Branson, Missouri, the Midwest capital of song and dance.
Twenty-one years is a long time on one show and I had so many adventures and great stories from that time that I will share with you in this book, including finding the girl of my dreams, getting married, raising four wonderful children, and now having grandkids (even though I’m still a kid at heart myself!).
While I wear my “entertainer” hat all the time, I also wear others: husband, father, grandfather, world traveler, and business owner (having established the “Burgess Cotillion” to teach children ballroom dancing and proper manners). You’ll read about all those roles in this book.
As I said, I’m a lucky guy. I hope you enjoy my memories of a great time singing and dancing my way through the years. I can’t imagine a happier life.
Bobby Burgess got his start in show business on Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club in 1955, and then starred on The Lawrence Welk Show for over two decades, marrying bandleader Myron Floren’s daughter. Today, he operates the Burgess Cotillion, where children can learn ballroom dance, manners, and etiquette. He still appears at events nationwide for The Disney Company and The Lawrence Welk Show.
If you have a question for Bobby Burgess that you would like to see answered here, please get in touch and let us know what's on your mind.
In this excerpt, from "We're a Hit", Bobby Burgess shares some insider anecdotes from back stage at The Mickey Mouse Club.
I had a crush on Mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge. She was our beautiful, blonde, outgoing dancer-singer who joined in the second year. She was always fun, and her mother was a former Ziegfeld girl and her dad was career military and called “the General”. But on our 1959 Mouseketeer trip to Australia, she fell in love with Lucky Star, who was that country’s teen Elvis. She later met Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton’s son Lance Reventlow. They ultimately married and moved to Aspen, Colorado. Their wedding was something else. It was held in a big Protestant church in Bel Air, and she was a gorgeous bride.
Mouseketeer Doreen was Cheryl’s maid of honor. They were always best friends. At the reception, we met Cary Grant who was Barbara Hutton’s husband at the time. But Aspen wasn’t just known for its snow. Snow of another kind was rampant there, and Lance and Cheryl got involved with drugs and alcohol. Eventually, they divorced, and sadly, Lance was killed while piloting his own plane. Cheryl married twice more. With her third husband, Manning Post, she finally found the love of her life.
One day, Cheryl and I met in the aisle at a local department store after not seeing each other for a few years. I told her how much she meant to me and her fellow Mouseketeers. I spoke to her a bit about turning her life around. After she married Manning, she did indeed turn her life around and went on to become very active in charitable work and came back to join us Mouseketeers in the many shows we went on to do for Disney as adults. Cheryl had one of those smiles that lit up a room when she walked in. She passed away from lung cancer in 2009. I miss her very much.
Many famous people wanted to be Mouseketeers. Liza Minnelli has spoken of her desire to be an original member, and Paul Williams auditioned but didn’t make the cut. Mickey Rooney’s sons, Timmy and Mickey Jr., actually became Mouseketeers for one season. Jerry Lewis’ son Gary wanted to be a Mouseketeer, but was eventually successful with his band Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Gary told people his favorite Mouseketeer was Bobby, and he invited me to his twelfth birthday party. We swam, dived off the high dive, and played baseball on his private baseball diamond with his dad Jerry as coach and pitcher.
We Mouseketeers also appeared on lots of Disney merchandising, and I’m proud to be on lunch boxes, paper dolls, and album covers. I guess they’re collector’s items these days. There are also ten selected DVDs from the show, and even a Disney treasure collection hosted by a big Disney fan, Leonard Maltin, who interviewed us for the piece.
Unfortunately, the Mouseketeers received no merchandising compensation. It was all part of our contract and we didn’t know what we were signing; we were just kids. Our parents signed the contracts as well and most of them never read the pages and pages of fine print, either. Of course, we were just so glad to have a job! I was making $128.00 a week. That was more than my dad was making as a meat cutter. We loved what we were doing. It was more like play than work. Every six months, we’d get a raise. It eventually reached nearly $185 per week, including personal appearances.
At one point, Mr. Disney decided he wanted to make an Oz movie, as I mentioned earlier. The Disney Studio in fact owned the entire series of Frank Baum’s Oz books, except for The Wizard of Oz. They planned to make The Rainbow Road to Oz as a feature-length film. Many of the Mouseketeers were cast in key roles. I became the Scarecrow, Doreen was a new character named Patches, and we had a dance together. Annette was the beautiful witch Glinda, and Darlene was Dorothy. We had no tin man, but Jimmie Dodd made a great Cowardly Lion. We had original music, great make-up, costumes, and sets. But unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me, the project was scrapped.
When it came to the Mouseketeers, I was usually always where I needed to be. But one day a photographer on the set noticed that Mr. Disney was nearby. Unplanned, he quickly got as many Mouseketeers and other Mickey Mouse Club cast members to gather around Mr. Disney as possible, shooting what has become an iconic photo of Walt Disney and members of The Mickey Mouse Club, sans Mouseketeer Bobby. Where was I? Right before the picture was taken, the assistant director insisted that our choreographer needed me immediately. Off I went. Oh well.
In this excerpt, from "Changing Partners", Bobby recalls how he met his second Lawrence Welk Show dancing partner, Cissy King.
Cissy was my second dance partner, and she was an outstanding dancer. We had a terrific act for twelve years and made many people happy. When I was looking for a new partner in 1967, and Barbara had left the show to marry, I placed an ad in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety to audition a new partner. I rented a studio and a myriad of girl dancers appeared. All ads read “Must Know Ballroom”, but most would do their theater arts dances and then say, “Ballroom, just show me.” Well, it is a studied art, and very technical, so I knew right away this was not the one when she’d make that statement.
The one audition I remember the most was this cute, perky girl from the Midwest. After doing some jazz, she ran to the side of the hall and bam, flip-flopped, cartwheels, and round-offs across the floor. Whew! When I tried to show her some basic quickstep, I don’t think she’d ever danced with a partner, so obviously she didn’t get the job.
Cissy was a different story, and she was my partner from 1967 to 1979. Barbara and I had competed in dance contests against her dancing brother John and his future wife, Kathy. Our dance studio, Call’s Fine Arts Center, were rivals of the studio run by John’s and Cissy’s ballroom teachers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Vanderpools. I was asked to be a judge for a dance contest at the Hollywood Palladium, and that night is when I first saw Cissy King. Was this the sister of John King? I knew that Cissy, with her brother John, had participated in the National Ballroom Dancing Championship multiple times and that she was a terrific dancer.
My mind went into overdrive and I thought, “If I could dance with Cissy, I could combine my steps with the steps from the Vanderpool Studio, and have a new look and new direction.” I auditioned Cissy who seemed to specialize in the standard, or smooth, dances, and was very good at lifts, as she’d been a gymnast. She got the job. We danced together for twelve seasons on the Welk show.
One of my favorite tour stories with Cissy was about an outdoor appearance at a county fair in Evansville, Indiana. At rehearsal in the morning, we put our music down on the bandstands, and the musicians, who were local, said, “We don’t read music.” I asked, can you play a waltz? “No.” A polka? “No. We just play chords behind the rock group.” Then I looked down and the piano player was missing fingers on one hand; he only had a thumb and pinky.
I quickly called the booking agent and he sent over the high school bandleader who played trumpet. We used their drummer and that was our “band”. And then it started raining with 100% humidity! They put a low-hanging tarp over the stage. I was carrying Cissy across the muddy fairground to the stage, slosh-slosh, when the fair manager runs up to us and says, “There’s a tornado coming, so we’re cutting the rock band short so you can go on.”
We do our act, have to cut the lifts because of the low overhang, and they’ve locked the gate to the audience, so no one can come up to dance the polka with us. Now the tornado can been seen on the horizon and the audience disappears and we disappear under the stage. Fortunately, the swirling cloud goes around us, and the manager, panicking, runs up again and says, “You’ve got to dance the act over again!” We’re exhausted, but nobody saw it. They let the audience back to the viewing area and we repeat our act as requested. Finally, we’re able to leave and the next day we head for the airport. But when we get there, they don’t have our reservations. I call our travel agent and it turned out he booked us out of Evansville, Illinois. Unfortunately, we were in Evansville, Indiana, 100 miles away! Sometimes, nothing seems to go right.
Here's a sampling of the several dozen exclusive photos in Bobby's book.