Monday, April 11, 2016

Do Spin and Marty Have Anything to Say to Millennials?

I have a friend who is obsessed with the Toy Story movies. He has watched them dozens of times and collects anything Toy Story related.

I’ve always preferred the hand-drawn animation of the classic Disney films to the computerized images created by Pixar. However, there was one moment in the first Toy Story film that was so unexpectedly moving to me, I nearly stood up and cheered. It is when Andy is spotted wearing a t-shirt with the logo of the Triple R Ranch, previously seen only in the “Spin & Marty” serials that aired in the 1950s on the original Mickey Mouse Club

To me this was confirmation that the Ranch, at least as of 1995, was still in business. And maybe it was still being run by Mr. Logan and Mr. Burnett, happily presiding over carefree summers of trail rides and songs around the campfire. 

But if it is there, would anyone want to go?

There is a tendency among Millennials and post-Millennials to disregard anything in the culture that came and went before they were born. I know it’s not true of the entire generation but I’ve heard too many examples to not sense a trend. So I can’t
imagine today’s kids and teenagers being captivated by The Adventures of Spin and Marty and its two sequels.

But it wasn’t an issue for me. I was born seven years after the final serial aired in 1957, and I didn’t see any of the “Spin and Marty” shows until the 1990s, when the Disney Channel began airing The Mickey Mouse Club on Vault Disney. I was hooked on them immediately. 

It’s easy to see why they were so popular in the 1950s, a time when television was dominated by westerns, and new cowboy movies opened almost every week. All the kids playing Roy Rogers or John Wayne in their neighborhood games could now watch stories set in the present day, about boys their own age learning to rope and ride and go on their own western adventures.

It was Walt Disney himself who suggested adapting Lawrence Edward Watkin’s book Marty Markham for the first “Spin and Marty” story. The 25-episode serial was filmed in Placerita Canyon, California, on land later purchased by the Disney company and used for hundreds of films and TV shows, including Little House on the Prairie and The Dukes of Hazzard.

David Stollery played Marty opposite Tim Considine as Spin. Interesting trivia note: Stollery left showbiz to pursue automotive design, and created the Celica model for Toyota.

Also in the cast was Harry Carey Jr., a member of John Ford’s western stock company, who played Triple R foreman Bill Burnett. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Carey about ten years ago; he recalled that “the whole feeling on the set was one of joy.” 

In the first serial, pampered rich kid Marty arrives at the Triple R (with his own butler!) and dismisses the place as a “dirty old ranch.” That doesn’t go over well with his fellow campers, but eventually he begins to fit in and overcome his fear of horses, when he competes at the annual rodeo.

After 30,000 fan letters poured in, Disney considered a Spin & Marty film, but opted for a follow-up serial. The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty unfolded over 22 episodes and introduced Kevin Corcoran as Moochie, the Triple R’s youngest buckaroo.

The sequel also recruited popular Mouseketeer Annette Funicello as one of the girls from nearby Lakeview Lodge. Of course, both Spin and Marty fall for her, prompting a knock-down drag-out fight. This being Disney, they are friends again by the final episode. 

The second series was another hit, which led to The New Adventures of Spin and Marty, a 30-chapter saga that brought back Annette and fellow Mouseketeers Darlene Gillespie, Bonnie Fields and Don Agrati (better known as Don Grady, who along with Tim Considine would later star on My Three Sons).

This was my favorite of the serials, as it featured both a grand adventure (the boys go in hot pursuit of a wild stallion named Dynamite) and a ranch talent show to raise money for a new kitchen (after Marty’s jalopy crashes into the old  one).

“I was always surprised and very pleased to come back,” Carey told me. “I guess there were other roles I missed out on, but it was too good a series to walk away from.”

It wasn’t surprising that I would enjoy these stories, as I had already become a fan of so many other television classics from the 1950s. But so much has changed since then. “Spin and Marty” is set in an outdoor world. An unplugged world. Would leaving the city or the suburbs to spend a summer at a dude ranch still sound exciting to a teenager now?

I’m not sure. But they don’t know what they are missing. 


  1. Like you, I watched the SPIN & MARTY serials long after they originally aired and enjoyed them. I'm also a fan of the ANNETTE serial (and own it on DVD because...well...because it stars Annette). I miss these kinds of shows and since they don't seem to be making them anymore (I find the current Disney youth shows annoying), I wish they would show these serials again.

  2. Like you I mourned the passing of 'Vault Disney.' The Disney Channel, like Nick at Nite, was a once-treasured source of entertainment that has since become nearly unwatchable. I own the "Annette" serial as well, and am probably due for another viewing!

  3. i wasn't born until 1962. i enjoyed the original mickey mouse club when it was rerun in the mid-1970's. (actually it wasn't the original MMC. i have read previously there was a MMC in theaters as a news reel pre-television.) i loved all of the serials, but the three spin and marty serials were my very favorite. spin and marty were a great form of escapism for me during junior high. thank you for all of the information.

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