Karen Pendleton, one original Mouseketeers from The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s, died Sunday of a heart attack in Fresno, CA. She was 73. Author and Disney historian Lorraine Santoli announced the news today.
Known for her shoulder-length blond curls, Pendleton was among the youngest of the original Mouseketeers. She appeared on The Mickey Mouse Club during its entire first run from 1955-59, one of only nine to do so among a regularly changing cast. She famously was paired with Carl “Cubby” O’Brien in the episode-closing “Now it’s time to say goodbye” song. Because of their tender ages, Pendleton and O’Brien originally were “Meeseketeers.” Both were part of what was referred to as the “Red Team” of Mouseketeers, which included Annette Funicello.
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Produced by Walt Disney Productions, The Mickey Mouse Club was a variety show for kids and starring kids. Each day featured a different theme, including “fun with music,” “a guest star,” “Anything Can Happen” (aka “Surprise Day”), “circus” and “talent roundup.” It was hosted by songwritter Jimmie Dodd, the Head Mouseketeer. and the only lasted four seasons but lived on in syndication and spawned numerous reboots and revivals.
Pendleton was born on August 1, 1946, in Glendale, CA. Santoli said the young actress was recruited to audition for the Mickey Mouse Club when Disney producers approached dancing schools in the Los Angeles area seeking kids to try out for a spot on their new children’s television show. Pendleton won them over and became a Mouseketeer,
Pendleton left show business after her stint on The Mickey Mouse Club. She was paralyzed from the waist down in a terrible 1983 car crash and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Undaunted, she eventually returned to school to earn bachelor’s and master’s degree, went on to work at a shelter for battered women and became a staunch advocate for those with disabilities serving on the Board for the California Association of the Physically Handicapped.
Through it all, Pendleton maintained friendships with her fellow Mouseketeers, also co-starring with them in many Mickey Mouse Club reunion shows and parades at Disneyland and at Disney fan shows and conventions.
“My mom loved her Mouseketeer family,” Pendleton’s daugher Staci said. “Getting together with them was always a high point. It gave her the opportunity to relive great memories and to meet so many Mickey Mouse Club fans that watched the show as kids and loved her. Many told her that they named their daughters ‘Karen’ in her honor.”
Along with her daughter, Pendleton is survived by two grandchildren.