Boomers Celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 90th Anniversary

Mickey Mouse became part of the cultural landscape a couple of decades before the Baby Boom, which is marked this week with the character’s 90th anniversary. Though Mickey the character and the cartoon appeared years before the Baby Boom, it played an integral part in the Boomer Experience. In the early days of television, old Mickey Mouse cartoons were viewed by boomers for the first time. As they grew old enough for their parents to take them to movie theaters, boomers experienced Mickey cartoons on the big screen, perhaps for the first time, in color. There is no mistake, though, that the true connection boomers developed toward Mickey Mouse was through the black & white TV that sat in their living rooms.

Boomers watched the evolution of Mickey Mouse from the early days of Steamboat Willie (1928) to the body changes in the character of the 1930s, and on to the 1940s, where Mickey acquired the basic shape that most boomers recall. At one point or another, every boomer saw Fantasia, which featured Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The movie was released in 1940, but boomers continued to view it decades later. Mister Boomer recalls college-aged boomers going to see the film in the ’60s and ’70s, while under the influence of mind-altering substances. (Mister B was not among that group.)

After his movie success of the 1940s, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories appeared in 1953, and Mickey was center stage once again. The series of comic books included many of boomers’ favorite Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Chip ‘n Dale, Pluto and a host of others. By the mid-50s, Walt Disney Comics were the best selling comics on the market, claiming sales of three million per month.

Walt Disney, ever the marketer, wanted a way to generate interest for the opening of his theme park, Disneyland, which was scheduled to open in 1955. He came up with a TV show called Walt Disney’s Disneyland (1954-58) that helped to finance the park. The show included cartoons and short segments, and introduced boomers to the Mouseketeers. In addition, it was Mickey Mouse’s job to relay regular updates on the park’s construction progress, and what kids could expect to experience when the amusement park opened. Toward this end, Walt carried on conversations with Mickey on screen, one of the first combinations of live action and animation broadcast on TV. Walt Disney’s Disneyland went on to become Walt Disney Presents (1958-61), Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (1961-69) and The Wonderful World of Disney (1969-79). All featured roughly the same format, which was an attempt to make a variety show for kids. And all featured Mickey Mouse.

Though boomers were familiar with the mouse at an early age, it can be argued that boomers got on a first-name basis with Mickey with the debut of The Mickey Mouse Club (1955-59). There was not a boomer anywhere who could not sing the show’s opening song: Who’s the leader of the club/That’s made for you and me/M-i-c-k-e-y, M-o-u-s-e. The show introduced boomers to Annette Funicello as one of the Mouseketeers. She would go on to star in many Disney films, most notably her seven beach movies of the 1960s (see: Who’s the Leader of the Club?)

Mickey Mouse merchandise was available as far back as 1933, but most boomers who had Mickey merchandise started with Mouseketeer ears. When Disneyland opened in 1955, the ears became a symbol of the theme park, and a valued souvenir for boomers.

Mickey Mouse was never Mister B’s favorite among Disney’s cast of characters. Neither he nor his siblings had mouse ears or any Mickey Mouse merchandise, though they did have some of the comic books and watched The Mickey Mouse Club on a daily basis, right after school. It wasn’t until 1970, when his family drove to California for a cousin’s wedding, that he went to Disneyland. As a late teen, he didn’t find the place very interesting, and discovered that the worst earworm in the history of earworms could very likely be It’s A Small World. Fortunately, no costumed Mickeys approached the family. This wasn’t the ’50s, man, and Mickey just wasn’t that cool. In fact, the very name “Mickey Mouse” became synonymous with poorly-made merchandise or half-baked plans that were destined for failure.

Despite all the history that surrounded the wholesome bubble of Disney’s world, Mickey Mouse has survived to the ripe old age of 90.

What memories of Mickey Mouse do you have, boomers?

Television in 1968: Boomers Watched Great Stuff

Despite talk of our current environment ushering in a new Golden Age of Television, you still hear people saying, “all those channels and nothing good is on.” Well, boomers recall when there were only three networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — and they were in fierce competition with each other for the eyeballs of America. By the time TV hit the late sixties, audiences demanded more if they were expected to tune in on any given night, then wait a week for the next episode.

Fifty years ago, in 1968, TV was showing signs of hitting its stride. Its early days behind it, TV needed to become more entertaining and more socially relevant. A look at the top shows of that year illustrate the point. The top-rated shows were a mixed bag encompassing all that had become staples of TV, and on — to modern experiments in comedy, satire and story-telling. There were Westerns and folksy shows, family viewing options, cop and crime shows, musical variety shows that carried on the tradition from the 1940s and ’50s, to be sure — but there were also groundbreaking shows that have gone on to become classics. Take a look at the Top 10 shows of 1968 according to Nielsen Media Research:

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968-73)
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964-69)
Bonanza (1959-73)
Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-71)
Family Affair (1966-71)
Gunsmoke (1955-75)
Julia (1968-71)
The Dean Martin Show (1965-74)
Here’s Lucy (1968-74)
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71)

While reflecting the divided nature of its audience, the Top 10 was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to a medium that was coming to grips with a changing society and drifting generations. To bridge the gap, look what TV producers added into the group of the next ten top-rated shows:

Mission: Impossible (1966-73)
The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71)
The Mod Squad (1968-73)
The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78)
Bewitched (1964-72)
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-69)
My Three Sons (1960- 72)
I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70)
Green Acres (1965-71)
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (1961-69)

Four years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, TV portrayed black actors in starring roles, a barrier that had been broken with the introduction of I Spy in 1965 and Star Trek in 1966. Julia, a Top 10-rated drama, starred Diahann Carroll as a working single mother; she was a widow since her husband was killed in Vietnam, raising her son alone while maintaining a career as a nurse.

The Mod Squad attempted to bring hip to the small screen while addressing themes relevant to a new generation in the form of a reluctant police unit that the show described as, “one white (Michael Cole), one black (Clarence Williams III), one blonde (Peggy Lipton).” The show was the first to display an onscreen interracial kiss.

Shows Like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Mayberry R.F.D. were described as “rural TV.” They portrayed a friendly, folksy wholesomeness that many would have preferred rather than the backdrop of the evening news. A case in point is that despite it main character being a marine, in Gomer Pyle, Vietnam is never mentioned. Granted, it was a comedy, but one that takes place in an army camp.

1968 brought us groundbreaking satire and politically-charged comedy from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Some contend it was Richard Nixon’s cameo appearance on Laugh-In that helped him win the presidential election of 1968. The Smothers Brothers delved into such controversial territory that they were ultimately cancelled mid-season because they would not submit finished shows to the CBS network for editing and censoring in the allotted time. The irreverent attitude and eye-poking of The Man and Authority by both shows made them popular with boomers.

On the surface, I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched seemed like innocuous comedies. Yet both dealt with learning to live with people who were different than the “norm.” I Dream of Jeannie featured an astronaut in his time on Earth after being in space. His daily routine was not unlike any other American heading off to work each day — except that he had a female genie in a bottle to see him out the door. The supernatural superceded a sci-fi space world that was coming true; space travel was brought home to the everyday.

Bewitched can be seen as a mixed marriage where the human husband’s mother-in-law never fully accepts him while he struggles with his role as family provider with a wife who has far more capabilities than the average housewife. Thus she is forced to “help” her husband by doing little magical, witchy things behind the scenes — a very old-fashioned thought in 1968 disguised as a feminist choice.

Mister Boomer’s parents leaned toward the conservative side, but he watched most of the top shows on the family TV. In fact, Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers became favorites in the household. About the only shows that weren’t watched regularly by the family were Gunsmoke, Here’s Lucy and Mayberry R.F.D.

Mister B’s mom enjoyed down-home comedies and Carol Burnett, Ed Sullivan, Gomer Pyle, The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres brought that to her. Yet she also really enjoyed Bewitched and Mission: Impossible.

Mister B’s father liked all kinds of TV, but never could resist one that featured a pretty woman, including Diahann Carroll (Julia), Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie) and Peggy Lipton (The Mod Squad). His favorite shows, though, leaned to Dean Martin and Mission: Impossible. He also really enjoyed My Three Sons. Mister B also has nice memories of being able to laugh at the same things as his father when they watched Laugh-In.

What TV shows did your family watch in 1968, boomers?