Don Grady, known to Disney fans the world over for his yearlong turn as a Mouseketeer on the original The Mickey Mouse Club—and later as Robbie Douglas on the quintessential ’60s sitcom My Three Sons—passed away on June 27, 2012, at age 68. Besides appearing for years on both stage and screen, Don had a successful career as a musician and composer; among his notable works were music for the Las Vegas stage show EFX and Blake Edwards’ 1991 film Switch, the theme for TV’s The Phil Donahue Show, and conducting the London Symphony Orchestra for the George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure arena tour.
“There’s a favorite photo of mine from the Disney days,” recalls Tim Considine, Don’s costar on both The Mickey Mouse Club and My Three Sons. “In it, all the Mice—what I called the Mouseketeers—and Dave Stollery and I from Spin and Marty, and Tommy Kirk from The Hardy Boys, are gathered around Walt Disney. As it happened, I had my hand on the shoulder of one of the younger Mice in front of me. It was Don Grady. Of course, years later, Don ended up playing one of my brothers on My Three Sons. He was extraordinarily talented, as an actor and musician, but he was also a funny, wonderful guy who never got his head turned by success. All four of the Three Sons have remained brothers since then—and Don will be missed terribly by all of us. I love you, Bro… rest in peace.”
Don was born Don Louis Agrati in San Diego, California, and was raised in the Bay Area; by age 10, he had learned to sing, dance, and play a whopping 10 different instruments. In 1957, Don attended a San Francisco open call for The Mickey Mouse Club, ultimately landing an audition with Walt Disney.
Bobby Burgess, another original Mouseketeer, remembers watching Don perform for the first time. “I first saw him when he was auditioning at the Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland,” Bobby recalls. “He was singing ‘It’s De-Lovely,’ and I thought, This guy really sings and dances well! I’m sure he’ll make the grade and become one of our new Mouseketeers… and then, of course, we got to be very good friends. He was just a great guy, and easy to get along with.”
Don spoke of his time on The Mickey Mouse Club on his own website: “I was the ‘plug-in Mouse’ when they couldn’t find outside talent to bring in for ‘Talent Round-Up Day,’ they’d turn me into a calypso singer, a Japanese emissary, or a Mexican balladeer. I would learn a new song and play a different instrument for each character.”
After his season-long stint on The Mickey Mouse Club, Don changed his last name to Grady and secured guest-starring roles on several dramatic TV series, including The Rifleman. He’d later become a ’60s teen idol with his role as Robbie on the long-running My Three Sons. It was during this time that Don would reignite his career in music: He played drums with the group The Yellow Balloon, who had a hit single of the same name in 1967. He later recorded as a solo artist, releasing his first album, Homegrown, on Elektra Records in 1974. Don also went on to appear in late ’70s touring productions of the Broadway musicals Pippin and Godspell. After a stint in New York, Don returned to Los Angeles and pursued formal musical training with several notables, including composer Don Nemitz.
Disney remained a constant in Don’s career. Despite only appearing for one season on The Mickey Mouse Club, Don would reunite with his fellow Mouseketeers over the years—most recently during their 50th anniversary celebration. And it was through a Disney connection that Don met his wife Ginny; their marriage lasted from 1985 until his death.
As it happens, Mouseketeer Bobby Burgess was instrumental in Don and Ginny’s relationship: “I [worked] with a group called DTV [a series of music videos that appeared on Disney Channel in the mid-'80s ]—and when I went on tour with The Lawrence Welk Show, Don replaced me. So he had to learn all the songs and the dances and the lines and everything… At that time, I was working with a beautiful dancing girl named Ginny, and [she] became his wife. So, he replaced me, he met Ginny, and then Ginny got transferred to Disneyland in Tokyo, and I said, ‘Don, don’t let this one get away! This is a beauty. And she sings and dances and she’s beautiful and very nice.’ So they always called me their ‘godfather,’ because he pursued her—he went over to Tokyo, brought her a couple dozen white roses, and then they got married and had their two children.”
In later years, composing was his mainstay—and much of his time was spent scoring for Disney. In fact, since 2000, Don scored more than 30 Disney DVDs and co-produced the Princess Tea Party album for Walt Disney Records. As Don himself is quoted as saying on his website, “After all these years, I’m still the ‘plug-in Mouse’ over there.”
Bobby, sharing some final thoughts about Don, invoked the indelible spirit of The Mickey Mouse Club: “You know what we always said in our Mouseketeer song: ‘Through the years, we’ll all be friends, wherever we may be,’ and that’s what happens with our group. We’re still friends after 55 years. [Don] will be missed, that’s for sure—especially by his family and his original Mouseketeer pals.”
By D23′s Courtney Potter