The death of Annette Funicello marked the end of an era for many baby boomers. Walt Disney hand picked the twelve-year-old to be one of the original Mousketeers for his Micky Mouse Club television show. There is no doubt that she was Uncle Walt's favorite Mouseketeer and it's easy to see why. She was not what you would call pretty and she was a mediocre singer, dancer, and actress, but she had that indefinable something...a presence that stayed with you. Star power. And she was a genuinely nice person.
Annette was arguably the most famous Mouseketeer. Many of them went on to one sort of success or another. Bobby had a dance career with Lawrence Welk. Cubby was with Welk for a couple of years and had a solid career as a drummer. Lonnie has racked up successes as an actor, director, and writer. Tommy is an Emmy-nominated make-up artist. Others were not so fortunate. Doreen ended up in a nude spread in Gallery. Darleen did jail time for fraud. Thrice-married Cheryl died of lung cancer. Karen was paralyzed in a 1983 car accident.
Annette's career, from Disney television and movies to recording star, to star of the popular Beach Party movies, to shill for Skippy peanut butter, seemed charmed. But in 1987, she began experiencing the first effects of muscular distropy. She went public with her disease in 1992. the following year, she started the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders. For the past fiftenn years she has kept out of the public eye for the most part. In 2004, she was confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk. In 2009 she lost the ability to speak. Throughout the long years of her illnees until her death yesterday she retained her image of bravery and courage.
Here we meet the Mouseketeers:
MMC featured Annette in a self-titled serial. Here's all 19 episodes:
For many of us Annette and Frankie and the Beach Party movies held many drive-in memories. (BTW, NPR Radio issued a base canard yesterday when it reported that Annette's two-piece bathing suit was a bikini; that suit was to a bikini that Ikea's moose ravioli is to moose meat.) Despite Annette's popularity, we watched the movies for the music, for the comedy, for the much skimpier suits one the other girls, for Harvey Lembeck as the magnificent Eric von Zipper, but not necessarily for Annette and her helmet hair.
Here's the trailer for the original 1963 Beach Party:
Here's the trailer for 1964's Pajama Party with Annette, Tommy Kirk, Elsa Lanchester, Harvey Lembeck, Buster Keaton, Jesse White, and Dorothy Lamour:
One of her best-selling records, Pineapple Princess:
And Tall Paul:
She tried to convince America that peanut butter sandwiches needed only one slice of bread:
Annette, we will miss you.