Image: The Everett Collection
The Mickey Mouse Club began, just like school, with attendance. "Mouseketeers roll call!" announced host and head Mousketeer Jimmie Dodd, "Count off… now!" Marching in single file toward the camera, the enviable Disney kids declared their names and waved a salute to the audience.
The first kid down the line barked, "Cubby!" That would Cubby O'Brien, who grew up to be a drummer for the Carpenters. Johnny Crawford, future star of The Rifleman, and Annette Funicello, the budding beach movie icon, came down the line a few moments later. But the second Mouseketeer in the roll call was Karen.
Karen Pendleton was the youngest Mouseketeer in the first episode of The Mickey Mouse Club, which premiered 64 years ago in October 1955. She and Cubby had recently turned nine (he was a couple of months older). The two pipsqueaks of the "Red Team," as the main Mousketeer crew was called, frequently teamed together on the show. With her long blonde curls flowing from under her black mouse ears, Karen was hard to forget.
The Disney scouts discovered Karen as they scoured dancing academies in the Los Angeles area.
"Now it's time to say goodbye to all our company…" she and Cubby would sing together at the end of episodes as the Mouseketeer performed their "Alma Mater."
Unlike many of her fellow Mouseketeers, Karen quietly left showbiz after The Mickey Mouse Club came to an end in 1959. The California native was just one of nine Mousketeers to appear on the entire run of the series. However, she decided to focus on school, eventually earning a degree in psychology.
In 1983, Pendleton became paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident. She went on to work in a shelter for battered women and served on the board for the California Association of the Physically Handicapped.
Pendleton died earlier this month in Fresno, California, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 73.