Mouse He Never Wert

updated 11/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

OH, MY GOOD! LOOK AT HIM!" RICKY Luna—15 years old, 5'7½", 128 lbs., brown eyes, olive skin and black pompadour—is doing a "meet and greet" at the JC Penney store in the Six Flags Mall in Arlington, Tex., and the 500 teenage girls who have gathered in front of the Reebok display are beside themselves. "Oh, he's so cute," they shriek. "He's so much more handsome than he is on TV!" The girls crowd closer, hoping for a smile, a word, an autograph. The scene is a circus, but it's really no big deal for Luna, the male heartthrob on the Disney Channel's new Mickey Mouse Club. He was born into the circus.

Indeed, at an age when most little boys are still riding their first two-wheelers, Ricky was doing double somersaults on the flying trapeze as the youngest member of the Flying Lunas, a traveling circus act that also featured his father, Mexico City—born Enrique, his mother, Havana-born Rosa, and his older sister, Liliana, now 17. Ricky began doing trampoline and trapeze stunts in the family's Sarasota, Fla., backyard when he was 7 and joined the act two years later.

Though Enrique and Liliana still tour with the West Coast—based Betty Reed Circus, Ricky set his sights on bigger things back in 1989. That April, Disney introduced its updated, infinitely hipper version of the venerable children's variety show that ran on ABC from 1955 to 1959. Ricky was hooked from the start. "All the time, he'd dance and perform in front of the TV, watching Mickey Mouse Club," says his mother. "He wanted to be part of the show."

Five months later, Ricky dragged Rosa and Enrique to an open casting call in Miami. He was one of 35,000 youngsters who auditioned during a yearlong talent search and one of the lucky nine who made the grade. "When we saw Ricky, we immediately knew," says Lynne Symons, the show's programming executive. "His strongest appeal is that he looks like some guy a girl might have a crush on in school."

Luna joined the 10-boy, 9-girl cast in November and kissed the circus goodbye. His mother quit, too, and moved with Ricky and his little brother, Rolando, 4, into a two-bedroom house in Orlando, not far from MMC's set at Disney-MGM studios. The three live there during the demanding April through October taping schedule. Ricky and the rest of the cast work Tuesday through Saturday, 9 A.M. to 6:30 P.M. with only a half-hour break for lunch. During the school year the cast is tutored in the mornings and given acting, singing and dance lessons between tapings, much like the Mouseketeers of yesteryear.

November through March, when the show is on hiatus, Ricky, Rosa and Rolando reunite with Enrique and Liliana at the family's three-bedroom house in Sarasota. While there, Ricky attends ninth-grade classes at Riverview High School and catches up with his old circus pals. "They all come down and rehearse for the next season," he says, "and we just hang around, or we go out and catch a movie or play basketball."

Once off the soundstage—where, says Symons, "you can tell how terrific he is just from the audience reaction when we're taping"—America's Sexiest Mouseketeer has no steady girlfriend. "If there's anybody out there," he says, "she can write me and tell me if she thinks I'm good for her."

She probably already has. Luna, who personally answers many of the fan letters he gets each week, takes his fame in clubhouse stride. "Everything's so much fun," he says. "We always have a great audience. It's pumping. It's cool." Even off- camera. The cast, which ranges in age from 12 to 17, is remarkably close-knit. "We hang out together, we go to movies together," he says. "There's always something going on. I'm never bored."

Though he sings and dances as a Mouseketeer, the closest that Ricky has come to using his acrobatic skills on the show has been doing back flips during musical numbers and playing a kung fu master who parodies kick-boxing movies by kicking boxes. Still, he says, he keeps tumbling "for exercise, for fun and to help my family when they're rehearsing."

But he sees his own future in acting. "I'd like to go to UCLA and study drama," he says. "Because this is my first professional job, I want to take it easy. Once I feel I'm prepared for the movies, I'll start auditioning for them." His idols, he says, are Michael Jackson, Anthony Hopkins and Jack Nicholson. Nothing Mickey Mouse about those guys.

ART DURBANO
DON SIDER in Orlando and Sarasota

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