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Mickey Mouse’s Birthday Is Experience Of A Lifetime For Kids

November 19, 1988

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) _ The voices of nearly 5,000 children singing the Mickey Mouse theme song echoed through the Magic Kingdom as Walt Disney’s famous rodent celebrated his 60th birthday with a gala party.

The youngsters represented 116 American cities and several foreign lands at the celebration at Walt Disney World. They all know and love Mickey Mouse. And they showed it Friday.

″He was even better than I expected,″ gushed 12-year-old Amy Glesson of Dublin, Ireland. ″More real than I thought.″

Walt Disney World had invited the children, who were mostly from low-income families, as the park’s special guests, and a similar celebration for an equal number of children was held at Disneyland in California.

Some of the children were orphans. Others attend special schools of different kinds. Most had never flown in an airplane until this week, and many never had an opportunity to visit Disney parks or similar attractions.

The theme song from the Mickey Mouse Club - the one that spells out M-I-C- K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E - was heard with many different inflections and accents, from the small towns of the Deep South to the farmlands of Missouri and the streets of Paris.

A small group from the Soviet Union accompanied one of their own, a guitar- playing orphan, in singing ″Happy Birthday″ and ″It’s a Small World″ in their native language.

″Mickey’s loving it. He hasn’t heard that many ‘happy birthdays’ in all his 60 years,″ said Dick Nunis, president of Walt Disney World.

But nobody liked it better than the kids.

″Next to winning the hockey championship at school, this is the best thing that’s happened to me in my life,″ said Christopher Leitao, 10, of Boston.

The daylong party celebrated the Disney character’s debut on Nov. 18, 1928, at the Colony Theater in New York City in ″Steamboat Willie,″ the first cartoon with synchronized sound.

″He actually looked a little cruder and more rat-like back in the 30s,″ said David R. Smith, archivist for Walt Disney Co. in Burbank, Calif. ″But over the years, as different artists came in, he’s kind of smoothed out. He’s been given more human characteristics. He looks pretty good for 60.″

Friday’s festivities also included a global sing-along of the Mickey Mouse theme song on radio stations around the world. Disney said broadcasters on every continent and at the North and South poles played the 12-line classic at 9:50 a.m. EST.

At Walt Disney World, the children from age 8 to 12, decked out in colored Disney T-shirts and mouse-ear hats, marched in a parade Friday behind Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

The youngsters then watched a special parade of Disney characters and each took a slice of what Disney called the world’s largest birthday cake, 12 inches wide and 1,000 feet long.

Friday night, with the park closed to regular visitors, the children took in as many attractions as they could get to, had photos taken with their big- eared hero, and watched goggle-eyed at a special parade and fireworks.

Vitaly Yakimov, 9, from Moscow, said the best part of coming was that ″everybody smiles - the children and adults - everybody.″

The Soviet children presented Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner and Ron Allen, chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines, with a Russian tea service and a cartoon picture of Misha the Russian bear greeting Mickey. Delta provided the free flights for the children.

Among the foreign cities represented were Dublin and Limerick in Ireland; Frankfurt and Munich, Germany; Toronto and Montreal, Canada; Nassau, Bahamas; and London, Moscow and Paris.

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