To celebrate the 1950s Mouseketeers featured in my book, Why? Because We Still Like You, I’ll be posting updates on their lives and current work here over the next few weeks, starting with Mouseketeer-turned-teen-idol Don Grady.
Then: Pictured here honing his performing skills just two years before joining the biggest kids’ show on TV, Don — then known by his given last name, Agrati — auditioned for the Mouseketeers at age 13, when the show was going into its third season. The tryout proved particularly nerve-wracking for him because he was a fan: “The Mouseketeers were like the biggest thing in those days,” he remembers now. “I couldn’t wait to get home from school and watch the show. I was so into it.” He got the spot after a dance-off with a kid named Buster in front of Walt Disney himself. The new job meant he and his family had to move 350 miles south to Los Angeles and start a new life there — his father even gave up the family salami business and instead took jobs selling used cars and driving bakery trucks. “That was an amazing sacrifice,” Don says. “I have to thank him. I never really did thank him. My show-business career could’ve been over as fast as it happened.” Don joined the show alongside new cast members Bonnie Lynn Fields, Linda Hughes, and Lynn Ready. But the older Mouseketeers — particularly the girls — took him in right away: Annette, Cheryl, Doreen, and Sharon, once the dreamy figures in his television set, told him straight off that they thought he was cute. “That was it, I died and went to heaven, Mouseketeer heaven,” Don says. “That was kind-of my welcome into the group.”
Now: By the time he landed a major part of one of the three titular offspring in the 1960s hit sitcom My Three Sons (along with fellow Mouse Club alum Tim Considine), he was known by his stage name, Don Grady. The role would make him a heartthrob and help boost his profile to pursue his real passion, music. He appeared on the show with his own real-life band, The Greefs, and then transitioned into a full-time music career once he left Sons. “I’ve always loved music,” Don says. “I’ve always had a passion. And so when the Three Sons stuff was over, I couldn’t wait to get into something I was passionate about. I never really saw myself as an actor. It was just something that happened out of my musical beginning.” Since then, he’s written scores for movies, television, and stage, including several projects for Disney (its recent Disney Princess albums and bonus music on Lion King and Aladdin DVD releases). In 2008, he released a jazz album, his first since 1973’s Homegrown, called Boomer. “Music today isn’t speaking to us, the Baby Boomers, anymore,” he says. “They’re speaking to the younger generation because that’s where the money is. But there’s a huge generation of people like me who love music and want to hear about the things that we’re going through.”