With all the hoopla surrounding the opening of Mickey’s Toontown thirty years ago earlier this year, I managed to get past another memorable event that took place at Disneyland in January of 1993. Fortunately I have photos to share, and some rather fuzzy screen shots from an episode of a quintessential 90s sitcom, Blossom.
Blossom Russo was a quirky young lady, being raised by her single dad Nick, along with her two big brothers, nerdy Tony and dreamy goofball Joey.
Mayim Bialik was Blossom, and Joey was played by teen heart throb Joey Lawrence (Woah!). As is the case with every ABC sitcom that makes it past its second season, Blossom filmed a very special episode at Disneyland. “Of Mice and Men,” episode 19 of season three, originally aired on February 8, 1993. And just a month earlier, in January, they were in Disneyland shooting scenes for that episode.
The photos I took that day were all at the entrance of Tomorrowland. Having never seen the TV series, I had no idea who was there (Michael Stroyanov as Tony and Portia Dawson playing girlfriend Rhonda, as it turns out). But I certainly did recognize the man in the director’s chair.
Bill Bixby had a comparatively short career in television and film, but managed to play three indelible roles. Two of them were in sitcoms: My Favorite Martian and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Bixby also played the first live-action David Banner in the TV series and spin-off films of Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk. (And yes, it was Dr. David Banner in 1978. Look it up.)
In addition to acting, Bixby was also a notable director. He directed most episodes of Blossom in the second and third seasons, and doubtless would have continued to do so, had his career not been cut tragically short by prostate cancer in November, 1993. This was just six days after directing his final episode. He was 59.
There was, however, no hint of this on that January day in the Happiest Place on Earth. Here, director Bixby coaches the actors, as the cameraman on the left lines up the shot. Note the dress extra in the dark blue shirt and jeans in the background. You will see her again, later.
This was the last photo I snapped of the shoot that day. Before there were digital cameras and unlimited storage in the cloud, five shots were considered sufficient before moving on. This one really shows the illusion that can be created through artful camerawork. When viewed at home, no one would see the crowd of tourists on the left, the production staff filling the center of the frame, or the other gawkers in the foreground. For the home viewer, it was all about a guy, and a girl, and Tigger. (Really. Look closely and you will see glimpses of him in the photos.)
For this special episode, the producers chose to open with a classic shot of a Disney-style storybook. The plot was rather unconventional, however. Since the character of Blossom’s dad Nick Russo had been well established as a struggling musician, he couldn’t just announce a family trip. No, he was instead sneaking off to a paying gig as Disneyland’s resident Elvis impersonator. (Don’t ask.) The kids feign complete disinterest, although (of course) they have their own plans for a carefree day in the park, ending at the Tomorrowland Terrace stage and a heartwarming reunion with their dad. Elvis.
For some reason, the entire episode consists entirely of sub-plots: Blossom is convinced her boyfriend is seeing another girl (but it’s really a distant cousin!), her boyfriend is afraid of heights (imagine that!), Joey cannot find a date for the day (oh, the irony!), and dad is trying to… hit on Belle?
Just kidding, of course. But we are treated to a scene “backstage” where Nick meets up with the charming Belle, as various other characters make their way through the background. Beauty and the Beast was, of course, a Very Hot Property for Disney when this episode aired. Synergy!
And in another moment of awesome 90s Disney synergy, who should come bustling through that busy hallway but The Party! You know. The Party. Positive Attitude Reflects Today’s Youth? Maybe you do remember The Party. They were an actual band, the first one signed to Disney’a Hollywood Records label. Not at all coincidentally, The Party consisted entirely of former members of MMC (the Mickey Mouse Club of the 90s). They were Albert Fields, Tiffini Hale, Chase Hampton, Deedee Magno Hall, and Damon Pamplona. And they were a band from 1990 to 1993.
If you are doing your math, you know that this performance of “All About Love” at the Tomorrowland Terrace was just about their swan song. But fans may be intrigued to learn that the band got back together (in 2013) and The Party will be performing live on a cruise following opening day of 90s Con in Tampa, Florida on September 15, 2023. Synergy!
Our scene takes place about a third of the way through the episode. In this sub-plot, Tony is convinced that every costumed character in the park is trying to make time with his lady love, Rhonda. Here he confronts Rhonda with Tigger.
Tigger, of course, just wants to get bouncy, but Tony is having none of it. After a brief snarling contest, Tigger bounces away.
As Tony reads Rhonda the riot act, we catch a glimpse of a familiar extra in the background. It’s the woman with the dark blue top and bluejeans.
Tony has a peace offering, a lovely pair of Minnie Mouse ears with a stylish gold bow that matches Rhonda’s pitch-perfect early 90s outfit. As she starts to put them on, Tony slyly suggests saving them for “later,” when they might be feeling frisky. Exit Rhonda.
And re-enter Tigger to put a proper Disney “kiss good night” on the scene.
Yes, there’s a happy ending. Yes, there are fireworks. And yes, I could have put in screen shots of all of it, but why not watch it for yourself? Blossom, season three, episode 19, “Of Mice and Men,” is currently streaming on (I kid you not!) Hulu, part of the Disney+ bundle.