Bonnie Lynn Fields, who danced and sang her way into pop-culture posterity as one of Walt Disney’s Mouseketeers, died Saturday in Richmond, Ind. She was 68.
Fields, a heavy smoker earlier in her life, was diagnosed with throat cancer about two years ago, according to her friend and former student Emily Kay Tillman.
The South Carolina native was 12 when she was offered a prized slot on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” the children’s variety show that launched the careers of Annette Funicello and others. Fields joined the cast for its third season in 1957-58 after an audition in Burbank that drew thousands of young performers.
Although she appeared most often in the show’s background chorus, she stood out as an agile dancer.
“Bonnie had a ballet line through everything she did. She was a lithe ballerina type. And she was light,” Lonnie Burr, a lead Mouseketeer through the original show’s first three years, recalled Monday.
In later decades Field’s career encompassed film and theater. She also ran dance studios, including the Lynn Fields School of Tap and Performing Arts in Santa Monica.
Fields’ given name was Bonita, but soon after joining the cast Disney himself asked her to change it because a two-syllable name harmonized better with those of the other Mouseketeers. Fields apparently didn’t mind and considered Disney “a doll.”
“She was a very sweet, good person. Dancing was her life,” said Lorraine Santoli, a former Disney publicist who worked with Fields for years.
Born in Walterboro, S.C., on July 18, 1944, Fields moved with her parents to Indiana when she was a few months old and began dance lessons at 2. When she was 9, the family moved to California, settling in Granada Hills. She told the Richmond (Ind.) Palladium-Item in 2006 that she was the second to last of 5,000 children who auditioned at a talent roundup for “The Mickey Mouse Club” when it was preparing for its third season.
As a Mouseketeer, she followed an intense schedule which, she told the Indiana newspaper in 2006, consisted of “three hours of school, one hour of recreation, one hour for lunch and four hours on the set.” The cast’s activities were strictly monitored by a man she called “the stopwatch guy,” Ron Miller, who married Disney’s daughter Diane and worked his way up to president of his father-in-law’s company.
After leaving the “Mickey Mouse Club,” Fields performed in live shows at Disneyland and appeared in the TV serials “The New Adventures of Spin and Marty” starring Tim Considine, and “Annette,” which featured Funicello.
Performing as Lynn Fields, she appeared in a New York City Ballet production of the “Nutcracker Suite” at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. She also performed on Broadway in the mid-1960s in “Kelly” and “Half a Sixpence” and had small parts in the films “Sweet Charity,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Funny Girl.”
In 1980 she returned to Disneyland to take part in Mouseketeer reunion shows with Burr, Cubby O’Brien, Tommy Cole and Sharon Baird. She also appeared in a televised 25th anniversary show for the “Mickey Mouse Club.”
She had no immediate survivors.