Annette Funicello: 'America's Sweetheart'

 Annette Funicello (circa 1975) holding a photograph of herself as a child star on The Mickey Mouse Club (circa 1955–1958).
Publicity photo
Annette Funicello (circa 1975) holding a photograph of herself as a child star on The Mickey Mouse Club (circa 1955–1958).

There are some news items that just stop you short and take you back.

Annette Funicello has died at the age of 70 from complications of multiple sclerosis. That just doesn’t seem right. Who knew Annette Funicello was 70?

Who knew Mouseketeers could pass away?

Annette Funicello was, it’s fair to say the most famous of all the Mouseketeers, which included Cheryl and Cubby and Karen and Doreen and head Mouse man Jimmy. For a generation of people who were adolescents in the mid-1950s, a time when Walt Disney had ventured into television with his own nighttime show, he invented the Mickey Mouse Club which aired right before supper (and probably put a dent into “It’s Howdy Doody Time” for younger children) in American households all across the land.

Funicello had talent—she took lessons in everything, including singing, dancing and acting. Her appeal was to look very pretty and remain wholesome at the same because the show’s and her audience was pre-teeners to early teens which were nothing like the know-about-everything counterparts today. They had fan magazines, they had television and movies. They had the beginnings of rock and roll.

Girls and young boys watched the shows—but the minute you went out for football, you stopped watching because, well, it was “The Mickey Mouse Cub” for God’s sake. How weenie can you get? You watched “American Bandstand” instead where you could learn the hand jive or jitterbug and the girls from Philly looked a lot older than the girls in your small town home room.

Funicello had a number of hit singles, including “Tall Paul,” “O Dio Mio,” “First Name Initial” and "Blame It on the Bossa Nova," and starred in a number of Disney vehicles including “Babes in Toyland.” Her career took a step toward iconic when she and Frankie Avalon starred in as series of serenely innocent beach movies in which her navel—show it, not show it—became an object of much fan discussion. The films, made by Roger Corman at low budget American International, nevertheless stayed in the public memory: "Beach Party,” “Beach Blanket Bingo” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.” It was innocent and very entertaining stuff by any standard.

She had been suffering from MS at a debilitating pace and, according to reports, had been in a MS coma for some time.

Frankie Avalon and Paul Anka, who wrote some of her songs, mourned her passing as did Britney Spears, also an alum of the Disney factory.

We’re going to miss you, Annette. Why? Because we liked you.

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Thu, 31 Jul 2014 11:32:48 -0400

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