08 April 2008

We'll go places

When it comes to Mouseketeers, Annette Funicello has strummed the heartstrings of boys the world over. Yet, for my tastes, and with no disrespect to Annette, had I been but a lad in the mid-Fifties, I would have been smitten with Darlene Gillespie. Whether it was her braids, voice, eyes, or persona, this was one Mouseketeer who could do it all.

Darlene was one of the nine Mouseketeers to be featured on the original Mickey Mouse Club, a series which ran for only three seasons, from 1955 until 1958. She was the lead performer of the Red Team during the entirety of the series and also was a contributor, along with her sisters, to Talent Round-Up Day, which aired on the program on Fridays. During the first season, and away from the series proper, Darlene was selected as the lead in Corky and White Shadow. She would also go on to star in the New Adventures of Spin and Marty serial.

In 1956 she would lead her vocal skills to another Disney production, this time without any association to the Mickey Mouse Club. When Disney produced a new studio recording of the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack, Darlene was featured as Alice on three of the tracks. For more on this rare Disney treasure, be sure to check out Jeff Pepper’s fantastic article.

In 1957, it was announced that Disney would be producing The Rainbow Road to Oz, with Darlene in the role of Dorothy. Though this picture would never be produced, several of the songs slated for the film were highlighted on Disneyland’s Fourth Anniversary Show in September 1957, and can be found on the Walt Disney Treasures: Your Host, Walt Disney. This was one of the rare performances that the Mouseketeers would have away from the Mickey Mouse Club.

After Darlene’s, and every Mouseketeer except for Annette Funicello, contract expired in 1958 her star seemed to dim slightly. She would go on to act in some commercials, and even continue her singing career as a country western singer, under the name of Darlene Valentine. Over the past eighteen years, Darlene’s life has been peppered with unlawful activities involving her boyfriend/husband Jerry Fraschilla. But the fondest memories of Darlene will always be the bright-eyed youth singing her heart out as a Mouseketeer.

Darlene was born on 8 April 1941, making today her birthday. From all the hearts you have broken over the years, Happy Birthday!

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