The Hazards of Being Mickey Mouse

Benjamin B. Ferencz

My theatrical career began when I was about twelve. The local movie house ran a special promotional event every Saturday morning, when busy mothers would be happy to see their kids out of the house. Some genius decided to establish a Mickey Mouse Club that would meet in the theater and be treated to an array of cartoons in addition to the regular cowboy movie. Each participant would receive a membership pin showing Mickey Mouse and the name “MICK!” written underneath. Girls would receive a “MINNIE” badge. Wearing it prominently on an outer garment would be a symbol of honor. Before the cartoons were shown, the audience was treated to a medley of Mickey Mouse songs or cheers in which the members were all expected to participate. It was not always in tune but it sure was loud!

Probably because of my small size, the theater management selected me to be the “CHIEF MICKEY.” My “CHIEF MINNIE” was rather shy and skinny. I wasn’t crazy about her. I was expected to lead the noisy audience in such stirring cheers as: “Handy Dandy, sweet as candy, happy kids are we! Eeny-icky, Minnie, Mickey, M O U S E!” As compensation, I could come into the movie house free at any time. I could also wear a badge much larger than the one that adorned the other kids, and mine would say “CHIEF!” The rule was that when Mickey Mice would meet, they would salute each other with the greeting, “Hi Mick” or “Hi Chief!” Furthermore, all participants received a membership card on which a stamp was placed for every attendance. When ten stamps were reached, each lucky participant would be entitled to a free drawing to win a beautiful new bicycle. Who could ask for anything more? “Hi Chief!” resonated in every yard and hallway. I became the most popular kid on the cement campus of Public School Number 80 in the Bronx.

The Mickey Mouse Club was a joy for all concerned. Mothers got rid of their kids for awhile and the little darlings were being safely entertained. Hollywood heroes like Tom Mix and Ken Maynard raced around on horses chasing villains who always got shot or beat up in a saloon full of dirty drunks. Cowboys with white skin went out, in self-defense, to kill all the redskin savages. For nine weeks of such stirring and educational Saturday matinees I was an honored celebrity. Before the tenth week was reached, however, tragedy struck. The company that owned the theater was trapped between two rival unions, both run by gangsters. The theater was shut down. The tickets for the prize were worthless. As every celebrity knows, fame is fleeting and hazardous. I was held accountable by all the Mickey Mice. Instead of the usual friendly greeting from my faithful followers in the club, I heard nothing from the Rats but complaints, outrage, and scorn. Instead of appreciation and the usual clap on the back, all I got was a whack on the head.