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Annette Funicello

 

HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: This buxom All-American Mouseketeer with the words "fun," "nice," and "cello" in her name parlayed her strong Disney connection into over a dozen '60s films, many with the word "beach" or "bikini" in the title.

 

CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Movie Star, TV Star, and Songbird

 

BIRTH: Annette was born in '42, so she was 22-23 when she played a teen in all those beachy-keen party flicks. Her exotic birthplace: Utica, New York, about thirty miles east of Syracuse.

 

IMPACT ON THE '60s: Annette was so well-known and well-liked, she made a career after the '60s just capitalizing on the nostalgia for her prim '60s image. Did we say prim? Yep, her first starring movie role was as Mary Quite Contrary in Babes in Toyland in '61. As late as 1987 she could make a nostalgic beach picture -- Back to the Beach -- that played on her sweet innocence and durable popularity. She herself has said she owes "everything to those [mouse] ears, 'The Mickey Mouse Club' meant everything to me," just as it did to '50s kids who made it the most popular children's show of the decade; at the show's peak she would get 6000 letters a month from boys who loved her and girls who wanted to be like her.

 

CAREER IN THE '60s: Her roster of mid-'60s movies reads like the Greatest Hits of Drive-In History: among them were Beach Party ('63), Muscle Beach Party ('64), Bikini Beach ('64), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini ('65), Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine ('65), and Beach Blanket Bingo ('65). Annette also starred in Disney's The Monkey's Uncle ('65), and she was in several early-'60s TV shows. She made lots of fun party albums -- you could tell they were party albums because they told you so (Annette's Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, etc.) Though she was the symbol of innocent romance and wholesomeness, her output was severely diminished after '65 -- perhaps she was a little too '50s for the late-'60s, and the public was so used to seeing her as a teen they couldn't bear to face the fact that she -- and they -- were getting older.

 

CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Born in New York, Annette came west when her father, a mechanic, moved his family to L.A. for the warmth. She became America's sweetheart in the '50s thanks to her sweet '50s Disney productions, especially "The Mickey Mouse Club" TV show. The original "Mickey Mouse Club" ran from '55 to '59, a total of 390 episodes. The show's host was exuberant Jimmie Dodd, the co-host was big lovable Roy Williams. Over 3000 kids auditioned for the show's inaugural season; Annette was the 24th and final Mousketeer chosen, and the only one personally selected by Walt Disney. Among the most popular Mousketeers were Darlene Gillespie, Carl "Cubby" O'Brien, Karen Pendleton, Tommy Cole, Bobby Burgess, who would become a dancer on "The Lawrence Welk Show," Johnny Crawford, who in '58 would co-star with Chuck Conners in "The Rifleman," Lonnie Burr, Don Grady, who later played Robbie on "My Three Sons," Doreen Tracey, Cheryl Holdridge, and Paul Peterson, who would later be in the Stone family on "The Donna Reed Show." Jimmie Dodd wrote the memorable theme song with these lyrics:

"Mickey Mouse Club! Mickey Mouse Club! Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me! M - I - C - K - E - Y M- O - U - S - E!

Hey there hi there ho there, you're as welcome as can be! M - I - C - K - E - Y M- O - U - S - E!

Mickey Mouse! Mickey Mouse! Forever let us hold your banner high! Come along and sing a song and join the jamboree! M - I - C - K - E - Y M- O - U - S - E!"

Annette then made three appearances on Disney's "Zorro" show, and The Shaggy Dog film in '59; she also had a brief "Annette" serial that billed "Annette Funicello" as "Annette," with these lyrics for her theme song:

"Who's the little lady who's as dainty as a dream, who's the one you can't forget?, I'll give you just three guesses -- Annette, Annette, Annette"

Her post-'60s output was very diminished, including a quick stint as co-host with Frankie Avalon of a failed CBS music/variety show in '76 called "Easy Does It." She also starred with Frankie in Back to the Beach in 1987 and did several decades' worth of peanut butter commercials, starting in the early '70s. Her career with Skippy is brought up in Back to the Beach when she serves PB & J sandwiches yet again. Annette was diagnosed with MS in 1987, and she actually began feeling the symptoms while performing one of her musical numbers in Back to the Beach. Confined to a wheelchair, she has stayed active and has raised money for MS research. She has her own company with her own collectible teddy bears and perfume called Cello. She wrote her autobiography, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes, in '94, still with nary a bad word to say about anyone.

 

TALENT: The singin'est, dancin'est, actin'est Mouseketeer of 'em all. Always nervous as a singer, she still recorded seventeen albums and had 31 hit songs, starting with her first hit single, "Tall Paul." However, her songs were so lightweight that she never got to cut loose with her vocals; sometimes her songs were downright peculiar, as in Pajama Party's "Stuffed Animal," where she sings "a stuffed animal is more than a toy ... a stuffed animal never says no ... a stuffed animal is hard to resist."

 

HER '60s LOOK: Wholesome, well-groomed, a ready smile -- basically she was Walt's ideal Disney girl. Singer Tommy Sands, her co-star in Babes in Toyland and ex-husband of Nancy Sinatra, called her look "very sexy...but you'd also be proud to take her home and have mom and dad meet her." She had "infinite grace," according to one of her best friends, Shelley Fabares. What a surprise when the Mousketeer of the late '50s turned out to be a bounteous beauty who could stuff a wild bikini in the mid-'60s. Ironically, in most of those beach movies she wears the most conservative clothes of anyone, though she's the star of "party beach" -- watch how often she's wearing hostess pants and blouses while the girls around her are in skimpy outfits. For instance, in Pajama Party she wears a nightie and  flimsy robe while everyone else is in tight-fitting shorts and PJ's that become tight, wet, and see-through when everybody falls in the pool. She has said that she didn't think it would be proper for her to wear a bikini, and Walt Disney himself had asked her not to when she started making the non-Disney beach movies in the early '60s. The 1963 Movie Life Yearbook gave her stats as 5' 2" and 100 pounds, 37-21-35.

 

LIFESTYLE: Loyal to her friendship and image, nobody betrays any gossip about her. This lack of Annette gossip is kinda nutty when you think about it, because in her movie roles she always played a swingin' party-beach chick who was hangin' around all these girl-crazy surfers. America's sweetheart was closer to being America's virgin, it seems. However, she once told an interviewer "I did naughty things. There was a time, I was in my thirties, when I wanted to see an X-rated movie, OK? I bought a blond wig, and I got into the movie. It was boring." Annette's first crush was at thirteen on "Spin & Marty" star Tim Considine. Her first boyfriend came along two years later, 1957, when she got romantic with Paul Anka. He wrote "Puppy Love" about their relationship, and she recorded the Annette Sings Anka album in '59. Her first husband was her manager, they had a big wedding in '65, with Shelley Fabares as a bridesmaid, and a Mexican honeymoon. Exactly nine months later daughter Gina was born, followed in '70 by Jack Jr. and in '74 by Jason. Annette got divorced in '81 and married horse trainer Glen Holt in '86, and he's stayed by her side all through the difficult health problems she had through the '90s.

 

EXTRAS: Her nickname: Dolly ... on "The Mickey Mouse Club," the custom-made mouse ears cost $50 each, and when Annette lost three pairs the $150 was deducted from her salary ... she and the other Mousketeers were first introduced to the nation on the very day that Disneyland opened, July 17, 1955, in a national TV special ... though it's easy to make fun of Annette's beach movies, they did have remarkable casts -- Pajama Party, for example, boasted Dorothy Lamour, Elsa Lanchester, Buster Keaton, Don Rickles, and a young hard-fruggin' Toni Basil in cameo roles ... the last of the beach movies, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, had Dwayne "Dobie Gillis" Hickman in it because Frankie had other career obligations ... a last compliment from Frankie on a TV bio: "She's the perfect girl next door; she doesn't have a bad bone in her body, she's the sweetest girl I know, and nothing's ever changed" ... from Annette herself: "Even sitting in my wheelchair, life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful."