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Mousketeer Roll Call: Karen Pendleton

While some of watched The Mickey Mouse Club and focused on Annette, many of us who were a little younger paid attention to the youngest Mousketeers, Karen & Cubbie. Cubbie O’Brien grew up to become an accomplished professional drummer, but whatever happened to Karen Pendleton?

Hers is a bittersweet story. Karen did not continue in show business after the Mouse Club show wound down. Instead, she finished school, married lawyer Mike DeLaurer in 1970 and had a daughter in 1973.

Then, her life took a downward turn. First, she was in a bad car accident in 1983 that left her paralyzed from the waist down. For a woman who had a passion for dancing, it was a devastating turn of events. That was followed by a divorce in 1985.

Instead of retreating from life, Karen made a decision to push forward. She went back to college, completed her Bachelor's degree in psychology and then went on to earn her Master’s degree, one of only two Mousketeers to earn a postgraduate degree.

She went into counseling for women, working at women’s shelters and holding classes on single parenting.

Karen has also appeared in many of the frequent Mousketeer reunion events sponsored by Disney and in 2014 she was given a Disney Legend award.

 

There were 7 regular cast members of that deathless TV classic Gilligan’s Island; yet during the first season, the show’s catchy theme song only mentioned 5 by name. The Professor and Mary Ann were just lumped together as “the rest.”

When the show was renewed for a second season, Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells asked that their characters’ names be included in the song. At first, the network flatly refused, claiming re-recording the song would be too expensive. Then suddenly, they changed their minds and had the song revised.

What happened?

The show’s star, Bob Denver, had gone to the network and said if the song wasn’t changed, he wanted his name removed from the opening credits. The network panicked and gave in.

The rest of the cast did not find out what Denver had done until 20 years after the show went off the air!

All of us who grew up in the 60’s watched Hogan’s Heroes, the show that demonstrated just how hilarious life could be in a Nazi POW camp. The show ran for 6 seasons on CBS and then for decades more in syndication (even reaching German viewers in the early 90s’).

Here are a few things about the show that you may not know:

Even though she was the daughter of established screen actor Robert Montgomery, Elizabeth Montgomery had to work her way up the ladder of success in Hollywood the way many of her contemporary actresses did.

That meant posing for cheesecake photos while waiting for her big break. In this shot, we see the future Samantha Stevens creating magic by wiggling something other than her nose!

In November, 1956, NBC became the first network to build a variety show around a black headliner when they debuted The Nat “King” Cole Show.

Nat "King" Cole was already an extremely popular singer, with 17 Top 10 hits. His show was well-received an attracted big name talent like Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald as guests. Yet, by December of 1957 the show was gone!

Why?

It wasn’t lack of ratings. Nat “King” Cole competed well. The problem was advertising. The New York agencies were afraid to place their sponsors on a show headlined by an African-American. They feared negative reaction to their clients’ products in the South. The show was only able to attract sponsors at the local level, like Reingold Beer in the New York area.

For a short time, Cole and his guests all agreed to work for AFTRA scale, the equivalent of minimum wage for TV performers. But after a year, Cole became disillusioned and quit, telling reporters, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”

NBC kept trying, bringing Bill Cosby in to co-star in the hit spy series Ispy beginning in 1965. Three years later they would launch Julia, a sit-com that starred Diahann Carroll.

But it wasn’t until 1970 that the network was finally able to create a variety show starring a black entertainer that could attract national sponsors. That was The Flip Wilson Show.

What could be funnier than men having to discuss bras and panties, right? Ah, the much more innocent 1950’s came to an end at movie theaters with this extremely popular WWII-themed sex comedy.

Operation Petticoat was made at Universal Pictures in 1959, apparently because Navy veteran Tony Curtis really wanted to co-star in a submarine movie with his idol, Cary Grant.

In one of those ironic little twists, Curtis’ other big picture for 1959 was Some Like It Hot, which also involved women’s underwear (this time, him wearing it) and Curtis performing a hilarious impression of Cary Grant as part of that film’s plot.

The film was directed by Blake Edwards, who would go on to much greater fame with the Pink Panther series and so many more movies. Paul King, Joseph Stone, Stanley Shapiro, and Maurice Richlin wrote the script, incorporating many actual incidents from World War II (including the accidental torpedoing of a bus and women military members needing to be evacuated by submarine). Looking at this lightweight bit of fluff today it’s hard to see how their screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, but it was.

The granddaddy (or is that grandmommy) of all Spring Break films is Where the Boys Are! Released in December of 1960, this was an “A” picture for MGM, shot in Technicolor and CinemaScope.

The movie’s advertising billed it as “The HILARIOUS Inside Story of Those Rip-Roaring Spring Vacations!” Let’s look at the plot. We have a date rape (laughing yet?), a girl wandering out into traffic and getting hit by a car (a chuckle maybe?) and the film’s two leads going their separate ways at the end of the picture (side-splitting, right?).

Actually, this baby is pretty damn melodramatic. What few laughs there are belong to Frank Gorshin as a very nearsighted musician committed to “dialectic jazz.”

The film’s title allegedly came from a remark a college girl made when a reporter asked her why she came to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break. The plot was based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout.

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.

Even the biggest of American pop stars were nerdy teenagers at one time and had to pose for yearbook photos.

And so this is what Madonna looked like in her pre-Material Girl days.

Ah, how soon we forget!

Gambit was an A-list caper film that starred Michael Caine as the thief and Shirley MacLaine as his initially unwitting accomplice.

Caine is out to steal a priceless statue from the world’s richest man (Herbet Lom). MacLaine bears an uncanny resemblance to Lom’s dead wife, whom he adored. (Hey, if she looked like Shirley Maclaine, what’s not to adore?)

The film’s main gimmick is that we first see the caper play out flawlessly. In the film’s first of several twists, we then find out what we’ve been seeing is merely the way Caine has described his plan to his partner, an art forger (John Abbott).

GORGON (1964)

We were born too late to experience the great Universal horror films in first run theaters. Instead, we watched them on our local TV station’s “Shock-Horror-Monster-Chiller-Nightmare Theater.” You remember. Those late night weekend shows where the TV weather guy dressed up as a vampire or mad scientist and showed all those great Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi movies that had scared our parents.

In fact, those old black & white monster movies created such a sensation on TV that British movie studio, Hammer Films, made a tidy sum remaking endless variations of “Frankenstein,” “Dracula” and “The Mummy” so we’d have some color horror to see at the drive-in ourselves.

But one of their films featured a totally original monster and is still tremendous fun to watch today, The Gorgon from 1964.

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