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Thousands of Underprivileged Kids Frolic at Disney Bash

November 18, 1988

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) _ Some kids tweaked Mickey’s nose Friday and others sang ″It’s a Small World″ in Russian, German or English when more than 4,000 children joined in celebrating the 60th birthday of the famous Walt Disney mouse.

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

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

Shortly after noon, in groups of 10 to 100, specially invited children - many of them poor or from foster homes - from 116 U.S. cities and several other nations assembled for a parade from Cinderella’s Castle down Main Street to town square in the Magic Kingdom.

Decked out in brightly colored Disney T-shirts and mouse-ear hats, youngsters ranging in age from 8 to 12 marched behind Mickey and Minnie Mouse. They waved and sang ″M-I-C-K-E-Y″ along with the band as they became the center of attention for the tourist crowds in sunny, 80-degree weather.

Mickey Mouse’s day-long party celebrated the squeaky-voiced character’s debut Nov. 18, 1928, at the Colony Theater in New York City in ″Steamboat Willie,″ the first cartoon to have sound synchronized with the pictures.

″People who saw Mickey Mouse in his heyday during the Depression saw that he had so many of the foibles that they had, and was striving to get ahead in the world just like them,″ said Disney archivist David Smith. ″People looked up to this mouse.″

Friday’s festivities also included a global sing-along of the ″Mickey Mouse Club March,″ the famous theme song that spells out Mickey’s name, 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.

Most of the children were selected by mayors or officials of social service organizations in their communities. Some were from foster homes, many came from poor families and most never had an opportunity to visit Disney parks or similar attractions.

Disney threw a similar party for an equal number of children at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

After their march the youngsters became the spectators for a special Mickey’s Birthday Parade of Disney characters, bands, horses and floats.

A favorite was Goofy riding a Palomino pony. Mickey was on a riverboat float. Donald and Daisy Duck rode on a vehicle decked out as a Southern plantation and impersonated Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara from the movie ″Gone With the Wind.″

A group from Lakeview and Michigan elementary schools in nearby St. Cloud shouted out in unison: ″Mickey’s cute.″ One little girl, too shy to give her name, said: ″I like having to fix his tie.″

Later, all of the youngsters took places around banquet tables arranged in the shape of a huge ″M″ that held what Disney billed as the world’s longest birthday cake - 12 inches wide and 1,000 feet long.

Each partygoer cut his own slice of cake, which took 1,235 one-pound boxes of cake mix and 1,850 pounds of icing. Disney chefs said they also used 3,712 eggs, 20 gallons of vegetable oil and 121 gallons of water to make the cake batter weighing almost 1 1/2 tons.

The Magic Kingdom was to be closed to tourists after dark so that the partygoers would have the park all to themselves.

Ten orphans from the Soviet Union joined children from several cities in Europe, Canada, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

One youngster from Moscow played a guitar, and he and his friends often broke out in the birthday song and ″Small World″ in their native language.

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

Disney and Delta shared all the costs of the event.

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

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