PLACE....Los Angeles, California
EVENT....The first TV Land Awards, reuniting Don Grady with his My Three Sons brothers,
Stanley & Barry Livingston, to present an award
Don had been a composer for fifteen years by this time, and was soaking in the scene
on the red carpet?one he hadn't seen since his Teen Idol days back in the '60's.
"Don! Don! Don!" fans cheered from the bleachers.
As he arrived inside the Hollywood Palladium, Don could still hear his name being shouted
"Don! Don! Don!"
Incredulous, he turned around to take one last look...
...and there was Don Knotts walking in behind him!
EVENT...........A cattle call audition at the San Francisco Cow Palace
At this arena, near Don's hometown of Lafayette, California, there was no red carpet?
just 13-year-old Don "Agrati" and his dance partner, Terry Hooper.
Don with Terry Hooper, circa age 9-10
While adoring fans weren't calling his name quite yet, it was Hollywood that came calling.
After capturing the attention of director Sidney Miller, Don was flown to Los Angeles
to audition for Mr. Walt Disney himself.
Soon, all the tap dancing, clarinet, and accordion lessons, coupled with self-taught skills
on bass, guitar and trumpet, led to Don's first contract as a regular Mouseketeer,
joining Annette Funicello on the original Mickey Mouse Club.
?I was the plug-in Mouse,? Grady recalls. ?When they couldn't find outside talent to bring in for Talent Round-Up Day, they'd turn me into a calypso singer, a Japanese emissary, or a Mexican balladeer. I would learn a new song and play a different instrument for each character.?
After a season on the Mickey Mouse Club, Don Agrati emerged as Don Grady, a young dramatic actor co-starring alongside Joan Crawford, Chuck Connors, and Adam West in popular westerns like The Restless Gun, Wichita Town, Zane Grey Theater, Law of the Plainsman, The Rifleman, and Have Gun, Will Travel.
?I usually played the sole son protecting his mother from the prairie, or from his drunk dad.?
Enter ?Robbie Douglas'?the role that would define the next decade of Don's career,
on one of television's longest-running sitcoms, My Three Sons.
"I was very serious. Dramas were all I had done. Since 'Sons' was a comedy, I thought I had to be funny. Peter Tewksbury, our first director, took me aside and said, 'Keep your seriousness?that's when comedy works the best.' I've been serious ever since!"
Throughout his time on the show, Don's creative talent extended beyond acting.
?I'm a musician who got lucky as an actor.?
Don's musicality didn't go unnoticed. At 19, Capitol Records signed him to a three-way contract, covering singing, songwriting, and music publishing.
He not only wrote and performed many of his original songs on My Three Sons,
he stepped behind the cameras to write some episodes as well.
During this period, Don also guest starred in many other TV shows, including The Lucy Show with Lucille Ball, and was the featured actor in an Emmy-nominated episode of NBC's
psychiatric medical drama, The Eleventh Hour, playing the deviate genius son opposite
Don is proud to have served for four years as the first Teen Chairman for National Cerebral Palsy. While traveling the country on their behalf, Don's love of music led him to discover the musicians who would eventually form the band The Yellow Balloon.
When he toured with the group, Don sang and played drums under an assumed name, wearing a disguise, so the music would not be overshadowed by "that actor on My Three Sons."
In 1967, the band had a hit with a song of the same name, Yellow Balloon, reaching #25
on Billboard's Pop Chart, and landing them on American Bandstand.
Don's early songwriting efforts were acknowledged in Brian Wilson's 2004 SMiLE Tour program:
"Television actor Don Grady was a talented songwriter who performed in a band called
The Yellow Balloon. His solo single, The Children of St. Monica, also made good use of solemn, prayer-like harmonics.?
After eleven years on My Three Sons, Don left the show, ready to embark on a career
as a recording artist. He wrote and produced HOMEGROWN, an original album released
as Don Agrati on Elektra Records.
The success of this album abroad led many European bands to cover Don's songs?
one of which garnered a gold record for the Dutch band, Lucifer.
Following his first live theatrical performance starring in the national tour of Pippin,
Don moved to New York, and appeared in many musicals, including Godspell, Damn Yankees, and Tom Sawyer. It was there that he made the pivotal decision to leave acting altogether,
and launch full time into writing music.
?The truth is, I ran out of money in New York. Since I had to start all over, I chose to focus
on something that was the most meaningful to me.?
Don returned to Los Angeles, borrowing $5,000 from his father to get started, and before long, collected his first paycheck as a composer for Hugh Hefner's Playboy Awards.
?My dad wasn't too pleased when he saw all the photos lying around!?
Don pursued formal music training in composition, orchestration, and conducting under such legendary and renowned instructors as Albert Harris, David Angel, Bill Fritz, Bill Schaeffer,
Buddy Baker, and predominantly his music mentor, Don Nemitz.
Soon, he began composing music for the live stunt shows at Universal Studios Hollywood
and Florida. His score for The Wild, Wild, Wild West show ran for 14 years.
Don went on to create the theme song for The Phil Donahue Show, and became the
Music Director for George Lucas Live, a 3-hour arena event for which he conducted
the London Symphony Orchestra.
He also served as Music Director and composer for EFX starring Michael Crawford,
a $52 million theatrical event which ran for eight years at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.
Don's first major television score, co-written with Don Nemitz, was The Revolutionary War,
a 6-hour film which won the Cable Ace Award for Best Documentary. He followed that up
scoring the Emmy Award-winning documentary, Why Dogs Smile & Chimpanzees Cry.
As fate would have it, Don returned to the Disney family in 2001, composing music for
more than 30 Disney DVD's including the last five Special Platinum Edition releases?
The Emperor's New Groove, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Jungle Book.
?After all these years, I'm still the plug-in Mouse over there!,? Grady jokes.
Other Disney highlights include a new Winnie the Pooh theme, songs for Disney's Magic English, scoring game animations, and the first original Princess songs in 50 years, The Princess Tea Party Album and The Princess Christmas Album, co-written with multi-platinum lyricist, Marty Panzer. The Princess Birthday Party Album will be released soon.
Don recently marked his 50th anniversary in show business, encompassing a career ranging from Mouseketeer to dramatic actor, sitcoms to musical theatre, and recording artist to composer? but it's far from over! Don is currently writing and producing BOOMER, a series of CD's whose songs speak to the issues of his generation, baby boomers.
?I'm not hearing music on the radio that I want to hear, so I'm writing it myself.?
The BOOMER CD collection is a series of EP's on JazRokPop Records.