How Do Child Actors Go to School? Disney's Original Schoolhouse

Posted on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 06:00

Walt Disney was an avid supporter of students and provided them with valuable learning opportunities. He said the following:

“School-age youngsters are capable of absorbing and retaining a tremendous amount of learning. Given the chance, they have an amazing aptitude for knowledge. We must not deny them that chance through shortages of classrooms and inadequate educational facilities. Having spent most of my life creating material for children and observing their potential, I feel convinced that a full-time education for our youth is our best investment in the future.”                                   

Although they are stars of the screen, child actors are also children, and “the Los Angeles Board of Education had very specific rules and regulations that governed the Studio in relation to children and schoolwork,” says author, Disney historian, and friend of The Walt Disney Family Museum Lorraine Santoli, who provided this snapshot of the school experience of Walt Disney’s Mouseketeers.

The Mickey Mouse Club Schoolhouse Trailers

Custom-built, the schoolhouse trailers were parked alongside Soundstage One, the home of the Mickey Mouse Club. Each seated twenty students with two rows of ten desks on either side of the single room. Typical classroom desks with lift-up tops provided the Mouseketeers’ work space. Each child followed an individual schedule, all planned by their teacher, Mrs. Jean Seaman, within a master schedule. Although there were several Studio teachers on the lot, Mrs. Seaman was the primary tutor for the Mouseketeers.

Being a Child Actor While Going to School

Unlike spending continual time in a normal classroom, the Mouseketeers’ three-hour requirement was constantly broken up as they were called out when they were needed on the set. Time spent in the classroom was accrued in twenty-minute increments to be counted toward the total three-hour requirement. Anything less could not be added to the day’s total.

“Sitting in front of me were Sharon, Doreen, and Annette,” said Bobby Burgess. “Now, Sharon was a little whiz at math. Sometimes, in a really low voice, I would whisper, ‘Sharon, I’m having a little bit of trouble with this equation—can you do me a favor on this one?’” Mouseketeers or not, they were just like the rest of us.

“Sharon went home at night carrying so many books you couldn’t even see her face. And she’s have a handful of pencils sharpened to needle points,” Karen Pendleton, who sat at a desk in front of the room, recalled. “I remember Sharon practicing her typing and she would type a mile a minute. And she’d chew gum and it was just so funny because she would chew it as fast as she typed.”

The Impact of Mrs. Seaman

Though the kids all had their favorite subjects, the one thing they nearly all agreed upon was how they felt about their teacher. “Mrs. Seaman was brilliant and I love her to this day,” said Doreen Tracey.

“Mrs. Seaman taught everything,” said Bobby. “And she was great in all subjects. Spanish, math, English, biology, history—everything. And she encouraged us. It made you want to work extra hard, just for her.”

Sharon remembers her long-ago teacher as “bright, positive, chipper, and brilliant. She had an answer for every single question that you ever had. And I learned so much from her that when I went back to regular school, I just breezed through with straight A’s.”

The fondness the Mouseketeers had for their teacher was also reciprocated. “They were great kids,” said Mrs. Seaman, “all cooperative, interested, and attentive. I couldn’t have accomplished what I did if they weren’t. And I wasn’t that easy on them either.”

An Untraditional Approach

The Mickey Mouse Club’s schoolhouse trailer goes to show how child actors can still go to school and recieve a quality education. Though the approach may look different than the traditional student’s approach with their schooling, child actors benefit greatly from education and the impact of teachers.

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Excerpted with permission from The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book by Lorraine Santoli. © 1995 by Lorraine Santoli.

Images above: 1) The "Little Red Schoolhouse" on the Disney Studio Lot. © Disney. 2) The Mouseketeer student body engaged in their education. Well, some of them. © Disney.

Lorraine Santoli is the author of two books, a journalist, and public relations consultant. She is a recognized Disney historian with particular expertise on the original Mickey Mouse Club and the Mouseketeers.