Mousketeer Roll Call: Darlene Gillespie
The story of Darlene Gillespie is not one that would lend itself to a Disney movie.
She was the daughter of a Canadian song and dance team. In 1943, her parents relocated to the Los Angeles area when Darlene was just two and began grooming her for a career in show business. By 1955, she was already an accomplished singer and dancer. She passed her audition for The Mickey Mouse Club and became one of the core cast members who stayed with the show during its entire first run.
What we at home never knew is that she was involved in an intense backstage rivalry with Annette Funicello. Dueling sets of stage parents put their friends and relatives up to flooding the Disney studio with fan mail for each of the respective girls. While Darlene did get to star in one of the Mousketeer serials (“Corky & White Shadow”) and play a major part in the second “Spin & Marty” serial, as the show progressed (along with Annette’s bustline), it became obvious who was the top Mousketeer.
Gillespie did cut a couple of albums for Disney, just like Funicello, but they didn’t receive the push from Disney’s marketing arm that Annette got.
When The Mouse Club ceased production, Disney kept Annette under contract, but Darlene had to go her own way. Her acting career quickly fizzled. Over the years, she made a few stabs at re-launching a singing career, but nothing really came of those.
Darlene worked for many years as a nurse and, in fact, greatly assisted her fellow Mousketeer Karen Pendleton when Karen had the car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Sadly, her last bit of notoriety came in 1998 when she was arrested in a securities fraud scheme that she cooked up with her husband. Darlene was sentenced to two years in prison, but wound up only doing 3 months. In 2005, she and her husband were back in court on charges of fraud. Those charges were eventually dropped. The husband who landed her in the slammer passed away in 2008.
Darlene is still with us, living in relative anonymity having finally reached a financial settlement with the Disney Company after a years-long battle over royalties she claimed she was owed for her work on that TV show. Sadly, that protracted legal battle led to an estrangement with the rest of the surviving Mousketeers.