Then: One of the experienced showbiz vets among the core group of Mouseketeers, Sharon Baird (in the bottom middle of this group shot) had danced on The Colgate Comedy Hour and The Donald O’Connor Show before auditioning for The Mickey Mouse Club at the behest of adult host Jimmie Dodd. Her handlers didn’t want her to commit to a daily TV show when she could be out booking films, but The Mickey Mouse Club producers made a personal plea to her agent. “My agent didn’t want me to go out for the Mouseketeers because she thought it would tie my schedule up,” Sharon recalls. “So they said I could try out for this serial on the show called When I Grow Up, about a girl learning to be a stewardess and a boy learning to be a pilot, which would only be six weeks of filming.” However, she showed up to that audition only to find she was totally wrong for the part. “All the kids at those auditions had freckles and long hair with braids, and that was not me,” Sharon says. “So when they called my name they said, ‘Would you go down the street? We’re auditioning for something else down there,’ which was the Mouseketeers.” Thus she’d become the Mouseketeers’ stand-out dancer for its entire three-year run.
Now: Like many Mouseketeers, Sharon had a hard time living down her Mouse Club image after the show’s abrupt ending in 1958. “Once the show was over and you went out on auditions,” Sharon says, “people didn’t want you because you were stereotyped.” Stymied by the dwindling of variety shows — where she’d made her young career as a dancer — she worked in offices for a few years before stumbling into a new vocation: performing as costumed characters on kids’ shows. She appeared on The New Zoo Revue, H.R. Pufnstuf, and Land of the Lost, among other shows, as well as Welcome to Pooh Corner and Dumbo Circus for The Disney Channel. She even played the title character in 1986’s critically derided, cult-beloved film Ratboy, credited as S.L. Baird so no one knew that under all the heavy makeup and costuming was a Mousegirl instead. “I was able to be on shows and in movies that were popular,” she says of her costumed career, “And still go to the market and just do whatever I wanted to do without being recognized by fans. I was still dancing and doing my thing without worrying about any of that.” She’s now retired in Reno, Nevada, and still keeps in close touch with lifelong best friend Annette Funicello.
For more on the Mouseketeers’ lives on The Mickey Mouse Club and beyond, check out my book Why? Because We Still Like You.