When Walt Disney discovered that he had been cheated out of the property rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in the late 1920s he felt betrayed and he and his friend Ub Iwerks set out to create another character.
On Nov. 18, 1928, Mickey Mouse came into being and shared certain features that resembled Oswald. Steamboat Willie was exciting in both action as well as the sound effects. A star was born. Originally, Walt was going to call his mouse Mortimer but Walt’s wife Lillian convinced him that was too stuffy a name for a mouse and she suggested the name Mickey.
People fell in love with that infectious grin and optimistic attitude that was the hallmark of Mickey’s personality. Soon licensing contracts with clothing lines, watch companies, food products, as well as any other product that wanted to pay to have Mickey on the package helped establish Walt as a major player in Hollywood.
There ensued many businesses as Disney Iwerks became Disney Brothers Studio and then eventually over the years The Walt Disney Company. Walt liked to credit his success with the quote that people should never forget, “It all started with a mouse.” To be sure, the great leap in his career started with Mickey but Walt had started with the Alice Comedies in 1923 with Virginia Davis starring as Alice. Before her passing a few years ago, Virginia visited Oakhurst a few times to greet fans.
In the early 1950s, Walt decided to build a place where dads could play along with their kids instead of just watching the kids go on amusement park rides. He created the concept of Disneyland and to secure the financing to build the place agreed to a multi-year contract with ABC Television.
Walt began to host his own show to showcase the products from Disney Studios as well as to promote Disneyland. One idea that caught on with the kids in America was the Monday through Friday hour-long show; “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Kids were glued to the family TV set while Mom was cooking dinner. As kids, we saw a crazy hat called “Ears” and we wanted them. The selection of different Mouseketeers gave Walt a great deal of young talent with which to work. The kids looked like ordinary kids and we bonded with those Mousketeers. Annette, Karen, Darlene, Cubby, Lonnie, Johnny, Tommy, Bobby, and a few others became familiar to everyone in America. Those were “major” Mouseketeers and the cast ensemble was filled in with other Mouseketeers.
One of those Mousketeers is coming to Oakhurst this Saturday to help us celebrate the 90th birthday of Mickey Mouse.
Paul Petersen who, after leaving the Mickey Mouse Club went on to star in the Donna Reed Show of the ‘50s and ‘60s as the son, Jeff Stone. Paul was a teen idol, to be sure.
This Saturday, Paul will be at the Oakhurst Masonic Lodge from 10 a.m. to noon to share stories about his career as well as to meet and greet people who live in this part of the state. The local Disney Fan Club will be hosting this event with Paul and they are only asking for a $5 donation. All proceeds will help fund local charities.
There will be a limited seating reception (40 people) Saturday evening so people may have a chance to really spend time with Paul. Information about that reception or questions regarding the Saturday morning event may be obtained by calling 559-641-8034.
The local Disney Chapter has brought in a variety of Disney legends to our area that is staggering for such a small group. They have actually introduced us to enough legends that the entire span of Walt Disney’s career has been presented in Oakhurst. Mouseketeer Paul Petersen will be the second Mousketeer to visit Oakhurst.
As Jimmie Dodd would say, “See you real soon. Why? Because we like you.”