Cheryl Holdridge, the beautiful blond actress who first gained fame as a Mouseketeer on TV’s “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the 1950s, has died. She was 64.
Holdridge died Tuesday at her home in Santa Monica after a two-year battle with lung cancer, said Doreen Tracey, another former Mouseketeer.
FOR THE RECORD:
Holdridge obit: The obituary of former Mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge that appeared in Friday’s California section did not mention that Holdridge is survived by her stepdaughter, Karen Michaels. It also incorrectly referred to “The Nutcracker” ballet as “The Nutcracker Suite.” —
“What’s amazing is that Cheryl and I have gone through so many things together, I’m glad I could have been there in the end too,” Tracey said Thursday.
Holdridge was 11 years old in the spring of 1956 when she auditioned and was hired for “The Mickey Mouse Club,” which had debuted on Oct. 3, 1955, with 24 talented youngsters who sang and danced and yet came across as the kids next door.
Holdridge joined the Mouseketeers in the second season of the show, which ran until 1959.
She quickly became part of the core group that appeared on the famous Mouseketeer roll call at the start of each show, along with Tracey, Annette Funicello, Tommy Cole, Cubby O’Brien, Sharon Baird, Bobby Burgess, Karen Pendleton, Lonnie Burr and Darlene Gillespie.
“She was a good technical dancer, but I think she was picked mostly because she had this angelic look and a great smile; she’s known for her smile,” Tracey said. With a laugh, she added: “We used to try to keep her quiet when she started singing because she sang off key.”
The other reason Holdridge was included in the core group was that “her fan mail was quite high, and they need those ratings,” Tracey said. “We were trying to win over the American public, which we did.
“Annette had the highest rating, but Cheryl came pretty close.”
During her Mouseketeer days, Holdridge appeared in some of the show’s episodic serials, including “Boys of the Western Sea” and the “Annette” series.
Unlike some of the other Mouseketeers, Holdridge didn’t have trouble finding work in television as a young actress after hanging up her Mouse ears.
She went on to play Wally Cleaver’s girlfriend, Julie Foster, for two seasons on “Leave It to Beaver.” And she had guest roles on shows such as “The Rifleman,” “Bachelor Father,” “My Three Sons,” “Bewitched” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
“Our reputations as Disney players opened doors,” Holdridge told the Chicago Tribune in 2001 during a Mouseketeer autograph session at a Disney memorabilia show in Bloomingdale, Ill., that drew a crowd of more than 1,000.
“Directors knew we understood how to move on camera, how to hit our marks and say lines. Doreen and I went up for many of the same parts. We both did ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ and ‘Bachelor Father.’ ”
Holdridge left the business in 1964 when she married Lance Reventlow, the son of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, “because that’s what you did then. You married and stayed home.”
Reventlow died in a plane crash in 1972. In 1994, Holdridge married Manning Post, a prominent West Coast Democratic Party fundraiser and advisor, who died in 2000.
Holdridge was born Cheryl Lynn Phelps on June 20, 1944, in New Orleans and moved to Los Angeles when she was 2. Her mother, Julie Austin, was a former Ziegfeld Follies featured dancer and comedian and encouraged her to express herself through dance.
After her mother married Herbert Holdridge, a retired brigadier general, he adopted Cheryl in 1953.
At 9, she was selected by George Balanchine to perform for the New York City Ballet Company in a Los Angeles production of “The Nutcracker Suite.” Her first screen appearance was a small role in the 1956 musical “Carousel.”
Then came “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
“She certainly was a very pretty blond and just had a very winning personality,” said Lorraine Santoli, author of “The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book” and a former Disney publicist who worked with the Mouseketeers as adults in the 1980s and ‘90s.
As an adult, “Cheryl was the most joyous person, is the best way I can put it,” she said. “She saw the positive side of everything.”
Holdridge enjoyed joining other former Mouseketeers at shows and appearances at Disneyland, Santoli said.
“She got such joy out of it, she really did, and she was so proud of the fact that she was an original Mouseketeer.”
Tommy Cole said Thursday that “Cheryl was one of the loves of my life, especially because we were like family.”
“Being one of the prettiest girls on the set, I always considered her Miss Sunshine,” he recalled. “She’d walk into the room and this ray of sunshine would happen every time she smiled.”
Cole was among the former Mouseketeers who visited with Holdridge on Monday night. And, he said, when he heard that she had died two hours after he left her side, “a little bit of sunshine went out of my life.”
Holdridge, who had no immediate surviving family members, supported various environmental causes as well as the Children’s Burn Foundation in Sherman Oaks, Friendly House of Los Angeles and the John Wayne Cancer Institute at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, where donations may be made in her name. A memorial service is pending.