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A FOND FAREWELL TO ANNETTE FUNICELLO

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by Leonard Maltin
April 8, 2013 2:27 PM
22 Comments
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For baby boomers, the news of Annette Funicello’s death hits hard. Millions of us came home from school every day to watch The Mickey Mouse Club, and she was one of the most popular Mouseketeers. She could sing and dance, just like the other kids, but Walt Disney saw something special in her and took her under his wing. It was her girl-next-door simplicity that appealed to him—and as so often happened, his taste anticipated that of the general public. The fact that she developed earlier than some of the other girls gave her a particular appeal to growing boys—but girls liked her, too. Years later, Annette  confessed that she thought of changing her name, which people had trouble pronouncing, but “Mr. Disney” thought it had a musical lilt and told her to be proud of it. (This was no small matter in the 1950s, when ethnicity was almost unheard-of on national television—except for Ricky Ricardo.) No matter: to most fans she was simply “Annette,” which was also the name of a daily serial that ran on The Mickey Mouse Club.

When a song Annette casually crooned in an episode of her serial brought an unexpected amount of fan mail, the company’s record producer,  Jimmy Johnson, paid attention and started crafting singles, and then albums, for the teenager, who characteristically never thought she had much of a voice. But with careful handling, multi-tracking and other gimmicks—along with songs tailor-made for her by the Sherman Brothers—she became a chart-topper. During a Dick Clark-sponsored tour, Paul Anka fell in love with her and wrote two hits of his own that were inspired by her: “Puppy Love” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.”

After the demise of The Mickey Mouse Club, Walt Disney kept Annette under contract, featuring her in such feature films as The Shaggy Dog, Babes in Toyland, and The Monkey’s Uncle, for which she sang the title tune alongside The Beach Boys. It took a lot of persuasion for American-International Pictures’ Sam Arkoff to talk Walt into letting Annette appear opposite Frankie Avalon in the Beach Party movies—in a somewhat demure two-piece bathing suit (Walt vetoed a bikini). This turned out to be a smart move. Those low-budget pictures further extended Annette’s popularity as the ultimate all-American girl with the dark good looks and Italian name. It also led to her final appearance onscreen, in the 1987 nostalgiathon called Back to the Beach, which presented her and Frankie Avalon as the parents of teenage kids.

As multiple sclerosis intruded on her life and made her a recluse, Annette’s close friends from the Mickey Mouse Club remained loyal, and protective of her. When I hosted and co-produced a DVD set for the Walt Disney Treasures series, longtime pals Shelley Fabares and Sharon Baird were only too happy to come on-camera to talk about her. So was songwriter Richard Sherman, who experienced one of his first major hits when Annette sang “Tall Paul.”

Annette touched millions of lives because, like the other Mouseketeers, she seemed “just like one of us.” It’s been heartbreaking to know that she has suffered so long, but encouraging to learn that the devotion of her husband and good friends kept her spirits up, as best they could.

Now it’s time to say goodbye to a girl whose modesty and charm made her a household name. We’ll never forget her.

          

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22 Comments

  • Mike Newell | June 11, 2013 5:30 PMReply

    I am saddened by the loss of Annette. I never even met her. I am merely one of the millions of boys that loved her from afar. I did see Annette in person once. She was making one of those whirlwind personal appearance tours with THE MISADVENTURES OF MERLIN JONES. The year was 1963, which would have made her just 21 years old. Annette came on stage wearing a short fur coat. Fox, I guess. She was beautiful! Perfect skin, perfect figure. She was dressed in a Jackie Kennedy-like a-line shift dress. Black with a small print. She wore tiny diamond earrings. Her hair and makeup were perfect as befitted a young movie starlet. She sang the THEME FROM MERLIN JONES. Annette was accompanied by a man with an accordian. That's right, a squeeze-box. He was certainly no amateur. Annette sang sweetly. No echo chamber or electronic enhancement was needed. Then, she was gone. I was too shy myself to ask for an autograph. Besides, I was tongue-tied. I'll never forget that evening. May God Bless her and her Family.

  • Andy Decker | April 22, 2013 6:53 PMReply

    As sad as it was to hear of her passing,it really didn't take me by surprize.What with battling multiple schlerosis and other associated complications,maybe it was best that it finally happened.She's not suffering anymore,and I'd like to think that she's up in heaven,where I truly believe people are no longer ill or infirm and enter at their physical and mental peaks.Annette was my first and forever crush and the world 's a much emptier place without her.

  • Mark | April 14, 2013 8:42 AMReply

    I purchased the Disney classic DVD of the "Annette" serial but I would like to see season two and three. I was told that she was part of the Spin and Marty Serials for season two and three (I alwo purchased that one and the hardy boys - I still remember watching them as a kid - I am 60 years old. Do you know when or if the other two seasons with annette as part of Spin and Marty will be released ? I keep checking at Amazon.com but never see it there . Thanks, Mark in Florida

  • susan | April 12, 2013 7:49 AMReply

    thank you leonard for such great memories and also letting younger people know just how special she was. I do think it was silly for some to carry on a bit about some particulars, especially at a time like this. It was refreshing how lovingly all remembered her. So- so- different in how some of the newer generation and even older folk remembered the fine Margaret Thatcher who only followed her convictions and did what she truly believed best for

    England. History shows it was in much better shape then than it is with todays policies. Wouldn't it be nice to see the Mickey Mouse Club be broadcast again so that our young people could see something kind and fun to watch. It might just do them some good. Thank you again Leonard.

  • Kevin S.Butler | April 11, 2013 5:40 AMReply

    A very sad loss..I'm sorry..Len.

  • Eileen | April 9, 2013 5:06 PMReply

    Thank you Leonard, but was it necessary to mention "the fact that she DEVELOPED EARLIER than some of the other girls???????????????????..........appealing to GROWING boys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" She was born in 42....it's none of your freaking business when YOU think she should have DEVELOPED!...by the time I was 5 in 57 she would have been a whopping 15! You horny little boy you....highly distasteful of you to bring this up...so disappointed. But I forgive you. There will never be another Annette Funicello period. God Bless her family~

  • Norm | April 11, 2013 10:25 PM

    I agree, innocuous,harmless...

  • Ross Care | April 10, 2013 5:33 AM

    LM is not the first to have made this fairly innocuous observation.

  • Walt Mitchell | April 9, 2013 3:07 AMReply

    Leonard, thank you for your heartfelt tribute! I never met Annette, but she was an inspiration for all America! I seldom tried to watch The Mickey Mouse Club when it debuted. The nearest station showing it was fifty miles away in Syracuse, and a snowy screen was the result in those pre-cable days! But my parents bought me the Mickey Mouse Club records! Between that and other Annette tie-ins of the day, I loved that girl! In response to the comment from Richard, the studio did release some of the serials, each one in its own DVD package, and the Annette serial was one of those, as was the original Hardy Boys serial. Annette was a religious person, and because of that background, she was kind and polite to people, even behind the scenes. So she was a GOOD human being, which is the most important thing in anyone's life!

  • Steve Jarrett | April 8, 2013 8:43 PMReply

    Ms. Funicello had multiple sclerosis, not "muscular sclerosis." From earlier comments, I gather that the copy originally said "muscular dystrophy" and was revised to say "muscular sclerosis," but this is still incorrect.

  • Rita Rose | April 8, 2013 5:46 PMReply

    Lovely tribute. Just one thing, she had multiple sclerosis, not muscular dystrophy. She suffered way too long and is now at peace.
    Rita Rose
    Former president
    Annette Funicello National Fan Club

  • Rita Rose | April 15, 2013 12:38 PM

    William Dobbs, the original story, before it was corrected, said "muscular dystrophy."

  • Paul Porter | April 11, 2013 9:55 AM

    Rita!!! I remember you. When I was a member of her fan club, I remember the envelopes coming and I still have some of those newsletters and pics. It's a small small world.

  • Bobbie | April 8, 2013 7:32 PM

    William, you must have read it AFTER L.M. made the correction. We are on the web don't you know?

  • William Dobbs | April 8, 2013 6:27 PM

    Rita,
    Leonard's tribute stated that she had MS.
    I don't understand why you are attempting to correct
    something that was correct. We will all greatly
    miss Annette Funicello.

  • Max Allan Collins | April 8, 2013 5:41 PMReply

    Beautifully said, Leonard. Just lovely.

  • Norm | April 8, 2013 4:43 PMReply

    Time to celebrate the life of "Annette", even though the Mouse ears are lowered today, and the tears are flowing, remembering the spirit and Love she brought are more than enough to inspire the smallest Mouseketteer... God Bless...

  • Kay | April 8, 2013 3:55 PMReply

    Just a lovely tribute, Leonard, heartfelt and warm, as we expect from such a staunch Disney fan. I was one of those kids who sang along with her, watched her "Escapade in Florence" ("Dream boy, Dream boy, who's the one for me?"), and loved her antics at the beach. Thank you for these words! You speak for so many of us. Kay

  • mike schlesinger | April 8, 2013 3:47 PMReply

    A lovely tribute to a real pro. But one small correction: She never wore a bikini in the Beach Party movies; I believe that was part of the agreement with Walt. So she wore a relatively demure two-piece suit, as you can see in the picture above.

  • mike schlesinger | April 11, 2013 3:14 PM

    Leonard corrected the text before you saw it.

  • Murray | April 8, 2013 7:12 PM

    Leonard said that a bikini was vetoed by Walt. Instead she wore a demure two piece bathing suit. The was no need for a correction. I will miss her. Today is a sad day.

  • Richard | April 8, 2013 3:39 PMReply

    Make them release all the Original MMC onto DVD not just her 5 episode special, Hardy Boys and Spin and Marty treasures.

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