The Mousekeeters are finally coming home for a grand reunion to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the show’s debut episode and the 90th birthday of Mickey Mouse himself. Featuring cast from all seven seasons of the Mickey Mouse Club, #MMC30 is organized and produced by alumni Dale Godboldo, who is behind the Always In The Club Foundation, and Chasen Hampton in support of Give Kids The World Village, and onePULSE Foundation. Hosted by Joey Fatone, the event is happening on May 18-19 at Walt Disney World® Resort in Orlando, FL.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for a series of interviews with some of the Mousekeeters who are going to be part of the event, starting with co-founder and Executive Producer Dale Godboldo. Since his stint on the Mickey Mouse Club from Seasons 4 to 7, Dale moved on to appear on TV, starring in the award-winning FX series, The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, as well as the 2011 blockbuster, Thor. #MMC30 is his latest project, and here he talks about his experience growing up as a Mouseketeer, as well as what motivates him to pull off such a large and historic event.
Tell us the story of how you became an MMC member.
Like a lot of the Mouseketeers, I was plucked out of obscurity in a small town called Plano, Texas, just outside of Dallas. This was at the tail end of season 3 of the show. They were doing the rounds, looking for a new batch of Mouseketeers, and it was a lot like American Idol where it was a big cattle call. It was on the radio and my mom, who heard about it, asked me, “Hey, do you want to go in and be a Mouseketeer?” And I was like, “A what?” She explained what it was because I did not watch the show.
I was a young actor at the time. I was doing a lot of local stuff, nothing major. For me, it was like, “Hey, a job! Sounds cool.” I prepared a number that I later found out was a song that [co-producer] Chasen Hampton did on the show because they told you what to prepare. It was about several thousand kids in that room in Dallas, Texas, and they whittled this down to just a handful of us. We did our shtick. I think they saw about 30,000 in that round of auditions around the country. Ultimately, they saw a hundred thousand kids throughout the whole seven seasons, but that round was about 20-30,000 kids. I was in the round of kids with JC Chasez from *NSYNC, Tony Lucca, a Rhona Bennet from En Vogue, Matt Morris—some amazing people in that round of kids.
So after the audition, some months went by and finally, I got a call, ‘Hey, you’re in the final running. We want to fly you out to Los Angeles, put you out for three days to do an audition camp.” So I came out here to L.A. We did three days of intensive singing, dancing, acting, and ultimately went home where they made me wait another series of months. Then, out of the blue, one day I got a call. My mom answered the phone and she handed the phone to me and said that somebody wanted to talk to me. Matt Casella, the casting director who found all of us, said, “Dale, you got it.”
I’ll never forget that moment because it was a precursor to what would be the next five years of my life, which was months of intensive focus. There were no quick decisions made. It was a marathon, and it was the first lesson that I learned—that hard work equals success.
I started in season 4 and ran through the end of season 7. I believe I am the oldest Mouseketeer on record, meaning, I was the oldest one to be a Mouseketeer while still in the Mickey Mouse Club, except for Chasen, who would become our host in the final season.
So that was my journey and it changed my life and it really set the tone for everything that I’m doing even today.
What was one of the most important lessons that you got from that experience that helped you get to where you are today?
I think I touched on it from my experience all the way back at the audition process, which was hard work matters and hard work is rewarded. You know, as an entrepreneur, or as just a person in life, you have to get base hits. You’ve got to see the fruits of your labor. It’s hard to visualize what something can be unless you can get a taste of what it’s going to be along the way. I think that is important. Anytime you’re putting together any kind of business or pursuing anything, you want to know that you’re on the right track.
That experience of waking up every morning, going through training—really business training, as well, because, as an example, we were vigorously trained on PR and how to represent one of the most iconic brands in history, which was Mickey Mouse, then the Mickey Mouse Club brand, and the Disney Corporation as a whole. We were taught that this is a responsibility and not to be taken lightly. That sort of training began to help you understand not only your responsibility, but you also begin to understand that it’s not just about you, particularly as entrepreneurs or even as artists.
You know, we think that it’s just us. It’s about our vision. Yes, but nothing happens in a vacuum. It’s all about creating the right team and collaborating with that right team. Respecting that team. One of the things I’ve learned above and beyond knowing that hard work pays off is that as an entrepreneur, I try to approach my team with the sense that I’ve worked for them, not that they work for me.
Certainly, it’s your job to impart a certain amount of authority and drive the ship. But make no mistake about it. As an entrepreneur, you have to lead by example, and ‘by example’ means working longer than anyone. It means putting up your own money, if necessary. And it means being available to your team to help them accomplish their goals so that they can be successful. I think every great entrepreneur would probably have that within their modus operandi.
Tell us what you’re doing as an entrepreneur or business person today.
Well, there’s, there are two tracks in my life that I’m very proud of. There’s what I’m doing in the non-profit sector and what I’m doing in the for-profit sector. My life’s goal and my mission is to collaborate in unique and supportive ways of each other.
As a producer and as a film financier, I’ve been very fortunate to work on a number of projects. Most recently, we launched a new franchise of feature-length films with the creator of the Final Destination franchise. The franchise is called Superstition, exploring various superstitions from around the world. The first film is called The Final Wish, and we’re really excited about that because it’s all about brand-building with this film. We have a world that we want to explore that ranges from superstitions on Genies from the Middle East, the Jin, to Carnivale, to voodoo, to step-on-a-crack-break-your-mother’s-neck, to Friday the 13th. There’s a wealth of content out there that we’re going to be able to explore. We just finished our first film and it came out very well. Now we’re rolling into our next film.
Here’s the connection to the Mickey Mouse Club. When I was in the Mickey Mouse Club, it was very important that we were socially conscious, and everything that we did always seemed to have a bigger purpose behind it beyond just entertaining kids. We were exploring the environment and the various concerns that go along with climate change and pollution. We did a whole segment on race relations where we had Jesse Jackson come on the show. We were honoring outstanding young kids—young people from all over the country—with our Hall of Fame Day.
And so what I wanted to do was you’ve got this for-profit television show that had all of these socially conscious elements and [incorporate that] for the film that I was doing. We infused partnerships with various organizations and give back to communities with our film revenue. Ten percent of our revenue goes to philanthropic endeavors around the world, specifically inspired by my time on the Mickey Mouse Club.
What would you say to an aspiring entrepreneur to become successful in today’s age of tech and media? Please share tips.
I think this really isn’t just because of social media. I think it’s really because of where we are today as a society. Authenticity is critical—having a voice that is real, not just trying to manufacture reality. You’ve got a generation of kids that see right through traditional marketing. That doesn’t work anymore. You even see it with the bigger corporations, hiring kids to figure out how to communicate to their audience. And the reason that kids are so effective right now—and when I say kids, I say anyone under 25—is because all they know is an authentic voice from the companies that they’re working with.
So when you’re exploring your social media strategies, when you’re exploring all of your marketing strategies, and when you’re exploring your general marketing effort, I think you have to start not with, “How can I deliver a product or how can I sell this product?” What you have to start with is, “How is my product relevant to my audience?” It’s a subtle conversation that you have to have with yourself because if you start there, you begin to naturally get into a dialogue with your audience because you’re asking the questions as much as you are delivering answers, and that’s really the difference.
Back in the day, they used to sit around in a room and figure these things out in a bubble and say, “This is what I think they want and I’m going to sell them on this and I’m going to tell them this is what they need.” Now you have to be responsive to what they’re telling you they need and they want you to pay attention because if you are paying attention, they’re going to tell you. I think that’s just a critical adjustment between then and now in this modern, social media-driven age.
So, Dale, maybe you want to share with us what brought on the inspiration to even try to pull this thing off?
I’ll tell you what motivates me: two things and it’s about 99.99% of it, the fans and my brothers and sisters that are the Mouseketeers. Over the years I’ve had the honor and the privilege of being really engaged with them through Always In The Club, a community page. I began to hear stories about how there were young women and men that were going through very difficult times in their youth, and they would turn on the television at a certain time every afternoon and either forget their problems or gain friends. There were young people that felt bullied at school, but they felt safe watching Mickey Mouse Club.
There were so many fans that shared with me how much they learned from the show, whether it’d be about the environment or race relations or music and dancing. I began to understand that this was more than a TV show. We were brothers and sisters to them. We were their next-door neighbors. We were their best friends. This means a lot to so many people out there, and this is sort of an opportunity for me to say thank you and recognize that there is no us without them. To give back that kind of love is everything to me.
The other reason that really drives me to do this is when we began to reach out to the other Mouseketeers about what we wanted to do and the overwhelmingly positive responses we got from all the Mouseketeers. You know, there were times when I got a little teary-eyed because it’s more than a reunion. Many of these people I haven’t seen since we were kids, and we all went through this really unique and interesting and different experience that nobody else can identify with but each other. I mean, we are all in this life, this experience together that only we can understand from each other. So to do this for them and to do everything I can to help provide this platform to my brothers and sisters is everything to me. So what I hope to get out of this is just that the audience and the fans feel the genuine connection that I know we’re all gonna have at this reunion and at the celebration when everyone has a good time.
I want everybody to go back to when they were kids, particularly if you were a kid of the ‘90s. You know, we are doing a lot to put you back in that space and have that moment. I am also looking forward to people recognizing what people like Chasen did as being in the first season and the groundwork that they laid that really set so many things into motion. You’re talking about a Disney channel at that time that was a pay channel. I’ve looked at some of the numbers. I think there were only very few viewers when they first came on the air. The Mickey Mouse Club was one of their first shows and they were a significant part of growing that brand into something that we see today.
Later, there wouldn’t be *NSYNC if two of the members hadn’t met on the Mickey Mouse Club, You know, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera got a lot of their training during that time frame. Nikki Deloach, an amazing actress and Rhona Bennett from En Vogue—all of these people that have gone on to do extraordinary things all got their start in a place where the kinks have been worked out, let’s put it that way.
So in the first couple seasons when Chasen was there, they had a lot of kinks to work out. By the time I came in, it was a well-oiled machine. It was an academy. It was a masterclass in entrepreneurship, public relations, dancing, acting, singing, and philanthropy. It was a foundation for, I think, what everyone is doing today, and we have Disney to thank for that because they were very aware of what they had and what they needed to do. They spent a lot of time imparting on us the importance of our place there. And I soaked that up.
And so I’m looking forward to celebrating with Disney this 30 years of a very unique relationship and spotlighting, really, not only how important they’ve been in my life, but really how important Disney has been to a generation of people worldwide.
Why is it important for you to participate in the MMC reunion event? Why would someone want to attend as a guest?
The inspiration is Chasen Hampton, my brother. I joined the Mickey Mouse Club over 20 years ago—28 years ago, something like that. But the groundwork had been laid, you know, 30 years ago. And when it came around that the 30th anniversary was happening, Chasen, who was there at the very beginning, reached out to me and said, “Hey man, would you like to get involved? If we’re going to do it, now’s the time to do it.” We had a conversation about bringing more meaning to it than it already had, which was basically the Mouseketeers coming home to central Florida and benefiting two outstanding charities, onePULSE Foundation and Give Kids The World Village. And that got me really excited. Then it’s just been off to the races since.
It’s really Disney’s ambassadors coming home and the Disney event group is helping to execute some amazing production elements for the show above and beyond the fireworks that you get at Epcot. We’ve got an amazing team to bring a once-in-a-lifetime experience to anyone who comes to join us.
I had launched a—I’ll call it a fan page, but it really is a community online called Always In The Club about six years ago, almost seven years ago—and the idea behind it was once in the club, always in the club. The idea was if the Mickey Mouse Club had a social media account back then, what would that look like?
It would be of all the Mouseketeers equally. It would be engaging with the fans, and the fans’ response has been extraordinary. It even surprised me. And over the last seven years or so, we’ve cultivated trust, and I felt a tremendous responsibility to that fan base. But when Chasen announced with always in the club that we were doing it—more so than me, Always In The Club and Chasen—there was a certain authenticity that this is coming together from the inside out.
Then it took us a better part of nine or 10 months before we were able to officially announce our collaboration with Disney. So we had built up a tremendous amount of excitement and momentum and I had gotten excited and I was ready to go. And then finally when we were able to share that guess what? We’re doing this with Disney. I think it just really took everything to the next level and really made it all crystallized in the way that it was supposed to be, you know?
Outside the world of Disney and the MMC, who is the one person you’d like to meet someday? You never know who might be seeing this!
I’m going to start with Oprah Winfrey. Honestly. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her. I just think about what she represents—where she’s come from, where we talk about success from the inside out and authenticity. There’s a reason people connect with her. I’m in awe of that woman. I’d love to have a conversation with her. She’s an extraordinary human being.