Then: Karen Pendleton (in the bottom middle row, to the right of Annette Funicello) came to The Mickey Mouse Club at 8 years old having never even been on a Hollywood set. She was often paired onscreen with the equally small, cute, and young Cubby O’Brien. She often made mistakes on camera due to her lack of experience — a quality producers loved to play up to make her relatable to fans — and she was continuously baffled by her own fame. But she and Cubby were an indelible TV “couple”: “I even heard that we got the most mail aside from Annette,” she says. “There were a lot of little kids who liked watching us together.” The duo, however, declined a joint contract offer from Disney at the end of the show’s run. “I can’t imagine how my life would’ve been different if I’d done it,” she says.
Now: Karen (seen here at the 50th reunion performance, front and center) dropped out of performing when she found auditions made her nervous. After moving to Fresno, she suffered a car crash in 1983 that injured her spinal cord and left her paraplegic, putting her in a wheelchair most of the time. The accident fueled her determination, however, and she finished both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology while also raising her daughter as a single mom. She worked at a battered women’s shelter, then at the Center for Independent Living in Fresno, where she still lives.
For more on the Mouseketeers’ lives on The Mickey Mouse Club and beyond, check out my book Why? Because We Still Like You.