One might think that her fellow Mouseketeers harbored some envy over the attention Annette generated, not only from the boss but from millions of young fans, but because “Annie” was so sweet and unimpressed with herself, they never did.
Bobby Burgess remembered a time when he was performing a ballet routine with her (they were the two tallest members of the troupe). He executed a lift and promptly dropped her on the floor; he was embarrassed but all she could do was giggle. Years later he was stopped for speeding in the Hollywood Hills and when the policeman recognized him he said he’d forego the ticket if Bobby would only tell him about Annette.
The Mouseketeers worked hard, not only filming a daily television show but working on weekends at Disneyland and making other personal appearances. No wonder they grew so close. (After the program, Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran told me how his folks and Annette’s became friendly, as did several other sets of parents and kids from the Disney clan.)
Family was key to Annette’s success and her humility. Her parents, Virginia and Joe, were warm and loving—and kept a close eye on their little girl. Frankie Avalon recalled yesterday that when he first met her he requested her phone number; Annette replied that he’d have to ask her mother. He got the same response when he asked her out on a date, and while they did go out for pizza, they never were anything more than friends. (In fact, Annette wound up marrying Avalon’s agent, Jack Gilardi.) When they made the first Beach Party film for American-International Pictures it was clear to director William Asher that they were a “natural” together from the first scene onward, and audiences agreed.
Songwriter Richard Sherman said he and his brother always referred to Annette as their “lucky star,” since she propelled their career forward and got them signed by the Disney company, where they made history with their scores for so many films and theme park attractions. But it was writing hit songs for Annette that put them on the map. (Richard accompanied himself at the piano on two of those early hits, “Tall Paul” and “Pineapple Princess.”)
Annette’s daughter Gina told the audience that she and her brothers Jack and Jason never felt they had a show-business mother: she was just Mom to them, even if she did film commercials for Skippy Peanut Butter while they were growing up. More often you could find her manning the refreshment stand at their Little League games.
Rita Rose told how she became a lifelong fan—and head of an Annette Funicello fan club—after meeting her at a Disneyland autograph session alongside Tim Considine and David Stollery. When Annette noticed that she hadn’t gotten Spin’s signature she made a point of passing the photo back to her young colleague and righting that wrong. Who wouldn’t fall in love with someone like that? Considine confessed that while he and his costar/pal devised simple scrawls to make such events move faster, Annette diligently wrote out her beautiful signature for every fan.
A replica of that signature now rests on the side of Stage One, where Annette and the Mouseketeers made millions of fans—or should I say, friends—and pop culture history.