Julie Piekarski is on a mission. The former “Mouseketeer” and “Facts of Life” alum is on a quest to join the cast of the ABC hit show, “Dancing with the Stars”. Julie is no stranger to the art of the dance, having honed her chops from a very young age performing in front of huge audiences at The Muny, the nation’s largest outdoor theater located in St. Louis, Missouri.
In the mid-1980′s, Julie took time off from acting in order to marry and raise her three children, and keep the artistic talent they inherited from their Mother alive in their own way.
I had the opportunity to speak with this amazing woman as she prepares to become the first Mouseketeer to do the Fox Trot in prime time. In this interview, Julie discusses her career, including her time on “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “The Facts of Life”. She also talks about a certain celebrity she rebuffed for a date and why she believes now is the perfect opportunity to once again showcase her dancing talent.
goJimmygo (gJg): Tell me a little about yourself and how you got started in acting?
Julie Piekarski (JP): Growing up, my mom enrolled me in dance classes. When I was five, one of the ladies there thought I had potential, took me under her wing, and became my mentor. She saw that I was a quick learner and had that “X factor” gift that can’t be taught. I started participating in community theater and shows as well as professional venues like The Muny Opera.
gJg: How did you get involved with The Mickey Mouse Club?
Disney was doing a nationwide talent search for their new TV show and several of my relatives, friends, and teachers were asking me to try out. After sending in a resume and photo for the preliminary casting, I received an invite to come for an audition. I traveled to Chicago for a two-day audition. At the time, I remember thinking that I’d be really lucky if I could just be made an “Honorary” Mouseketeer and appear on the show just one time. Instead, after the auditions were complete, I got a call to go to a local TV station for an on-camera interview and eventually was chosen for the show! Out of the 15,000 kids auditioned, only 12 were picked.
gJg: That’s where you met Lisa Whelchel (Facts of Life) for the first time!
JP: Yes, Lisa was there too. There were eight people from the LA area and four of us from out-of-town. Lisa was from Texas and I was from St. Louis. We both bonded quite a bit during our time together. Since we were the out-of-state “Mice”, we tried to get lodging near each other and do things together on the weekends or after work.
The show was really doing great. They were talking about making dolls of each of us, touring across the U.S., and cutting a record (yes I said a record). I remember plans were being made to come to everyone’s home over the summer break and film special segments about each of us and what our home life was like and our other passions, but all of sudden we received word that the show was cancelled.
gJg: What happened?
JP: “The Black Hole” movie came out. It was the first big, one of kind Sci fi movie that Disney had poured everything they had into. They made a choice and obviously chose wrong since the movie didn’t do very well. We still continued performing and doing appearances at Disneyland and Disney World as well as the TV movie for another year or so but the show part of it was over.
By this point I had acquired an agent and started doing more television work: The big Dr. Pepper campaign “I’m a Pepper” commercials, Taco Bell Girl, made guest appearances on “Three’s Company”, Quincy, General Hospital and others. That was when “The Facts of Life” came along.
gJg: You were reunited with Lisa again on The Facts of Life a few years later.
JP: What’s funny is I honestly don’t remember her being up for a part until close to the end of auditions. One day, I literally walked in and found out that we would be reading together. [laughs]
gJg: What was your experience like on that show?
JP: I enjoyed it. The seven of us girls got along great. Actually, Kim Fields and I became very close and still keep in touch. I looked forward to going in every day. I also enjoyed doing the photo shoots and publicity events. I was thrilled to be chosen to be on Hollywood Squares with Charlotte Rae.
But most of all, the charity events really touched me and I was honored to participate and help out in any way. As for our show, we’d usually rehearse on a Monday, then there would be re-writes over the next few days and finally, we’d do a taping in front of a live audience. Now that was the best part. It was like doing real theater again for me. It’s such a high to hear the immediate response of the audience. It was a great process.
gJg: Why do you think they down-sized the show and decided to only go with four girls?
JP: I heard that the reason was they didn’t feel audiences could relate to all of the different characters. They couldn’t find enough specific “niches” for each girl to conform to and identify with. Maybe the writers were not able to write in that many characters for only a half hour sitcom? Even Julie Anne Haddock’s character (Cindi), who was sort of a tom-boy, wasn’t quite as “tough” as they wanted. That’s when they decided to bring in Nancy McKeon as Jo.
gJg: Why did you decide to take a break from acting?
JP: Education was always important to me. It’s something that no one can ever take away from you. While in LA and still pursuing my acting career, I was going to school at UCLA and originally considered getting a degree in biochemistry because I was into genetics and cloning. But the workload became intense and something had to give. Instead, I decided to go into business and communications.
gJg: What’s your plan now?
JP: Now that my kids are all grown and on their own, I’m opening up the door again and getting back into the business. Last year, I portrayed Elle’s mom in “Legally Blonde” at The Muny and this October I will be Lilly St. Regis in a professional production of “Annie”.
Which brings me to my next endeavor: I’ve begun a crusade to get on “Dancing With the Stars!”
gJg: You would be terrific on that show!
JP: I really think I could do it. I’d like to get a following going to show the producers I’m serious about it. And besides, they’ve never had a “Mouseketeer” on there!
It’s been a while since I focused on myself. I’ve spent these last years putting my energy into being a mother and wife. My children are now situated, happy and confident. I couldn’t ask for more. Now it’s my turn! [laughs] I really miss the dancing and the singing and I think “Dancing with the Stars” would be a great opportunity for me. I would thoroughly enjoy it: high kicks, splits and all!
gJg: Tell me something not too many people know about you from those days.
JP: Here’s something that always cracks up my fellow women friends: When Tom Cruise was first getting started; I had met him on several audition calls. It was on one of these occasions where he actually asked me out on a date. You know, this was before Tom Cruise became “Tom Cruise” and I remember… I turned him down! I thought at the time he seemed a bit full of himself! [laughs]
gJg: Do you have any regrets?
JP: Honestly I don’t. Life happens for a reason and it takes you down a certain path. The only “regret” I think about as I get older is the amount of money that’s being made out there in Hollywood that people could use for good things rather than squandering it on things like drugs and alcohol. There’s money that can be used for education or to build a foundation or for charity. I always tell my kids: “Leave this world a better place then you found it.” And most of all, What you are is God’s gift to you, what you make of yourself is your gift to God.
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