Oh, Mickey, you're so fine, you're so fine, you blow my mind, Hey Mickey!
Toni Basil: actress, choreographer, one hit wonder. From her early days as a go-go dancer and Hollywood bit player to her 15 minutes of fame with a criminally catchy cheerleader chant, Basil has proven to be a lasting force in American entertainment of the 20th century.
Antonia Christina Basilotta was born September 22, 1943 in Philadelphia, to Tony and Pauline Basilotta. Tony was a bandleader; Pauline, an acrobat. It was little wonder, then, that Toni began dancing before she even entered kindergarten. In grammar school, she formed a cheerleading squad with her friends - even though the school had no sports for them to cheer on. Her family moved to Las Vegas when she was 13, and she continued her cheerleading experiences at Las Vegas High. When she graduated, she had no career aspirations except to dance and be famous. With that in mind, she headed off to Hollywood to be a star.
In The Movies
Toni's dancing talent landed her several jobs in theater, film, and television as an extra. Appearing on such shows as "Hullaballoo" and "The T.A.M.I. Show", Toni soon exerted herself as an innovative choreographer. This led her to receive dance gigs in the movies, with her first appearance in the 1964 Annette vehicle The Pajama Party.
Her next big break came in 1966, when she was given an exotic role as a stripper in the avant-garde cult classic Breakaway. She also had her first taste of a musical career, recording the title song for the opening credits. In 1967, she ran into a budding actor and producer who was looking into doing more psychedelic and free-spirited affairs. Thus began a lifelong friendship and working relationship with Jack Nicholson.
Toni's first job with Nicholson was Head, the chaotic romp with The Monkees (she can be spotted dancing with Davy Jones during "Daddy's Song"). She also had an uncredited appearance in Federico Fellini's Sweet Charity that year. Her next appearance with Nicholson was in Easy Rider, where she played a prostitute visited by the motorcycle duo of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. In real life, she and Hopper dated for awhile before she found a new lover in former child star and sometimes actor Dean Stockwell.
She followed up her role in Easy Rider with another bit role in Five Easy Pieces with Nicholson. She also appeared in Hopper's messy 1971 flick The Last Movie, and landed her sole starring role in Greaser's Palace, an absurdist mess by the Hollywood outcast Robert Downey, Sr..
A Change Of Pace
By now her choreography was known throughout Hollywood, and she began working on a number of small independent films to pay the bills - one of which turned out to be the George Lucas classic American Graffiti. She also invented the David Bowie stage character The Thin White Duke for his 1974 concert series, as well as his characteristic performances. Basil also branched out into independent dance, forming a troupe called The Lockers, full of the newest breakdance moves sweeping through New York City and the rest of the United States.
In 1976, Basil's group was given the chance to perform on the newest hit show on TV, "Saturday Night". She and the group (featuring a pre-"Rerun" Fred Berry) wowed the crowd with a fresh rhythmic song and some exquisitely timed pop and lock maneuvers. The popularity of the episode became a major focal point for the birth of American hip hop as a major commercial entity. That same year, Basil made another movie appearance in another cult classic, playing a junkie in the Raquel Welch/Bill Cosby ambulance comedy flop Mother, Jugs, And Speed.
Top Of The Pops
Already a success and a celebrity, Toni wasn't content to sit on her laurels. Instead she set out to revive the musical career she had began in 1966. With the help of ex-boyfriend Jerry Casale of Devo, she began preparing an album for release in 1982. When Word Of Mouth hit stores in 1982, there was a modest reaction from fans of the dancing queen. But when a flamboyant and fun video of Basil and some actual cheerleaders from Carson High School in Los Angeles hit the new cable juggernaut MTV's rotation, sales exploded. "Mickey" went to #1, and the album went gold. Toni was on top once again.
Toni continued to choreograph music videos (The Talking Heads' "Once In A Lifetime") and concerts for her friends in the record industry. In 1984, she put out another album with a new single "Over My Head", which met with limited chart success. By that time, she had gotten a full-time job as choreographer for Bette Midler's bawdy and jam-packed shows. She continued to make occasional appearances in movies (Slaughterhouse Rock, Pacific Palisades) and television ("Baywatch") throughout the 1990's, earning an Emmy nomination in 1988 for her "Four Swans" number on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour". At the same time, she never quit her real day job, choreographing such films as That Thing You Do!, My Best Friend's Wedding, and Legally Blonde. She also turned a few bland pairs of khaki pants for Gap into a swinging sensation with her series of television advertisements for the clothing company in 1999.
In 2001, VH1 named "Mickey" the #1 one hit wonder of all time, and the song and video were enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Basil doesn't seem to mind the notoriety of such an award:
I had such a great time making it. It was my dream come true.