Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Annette Funicello 1942-2013

This one hit me hard. Very hard. Me and fifty-million baby boomers. Annette Funicello passed away yesterday at age 70.  She had a major and lasting impact on all our lives. 

We were the first generation weaned on television. Even though our screens were twelve inches, the images were only in black and white, there were only a handful of channels, and often the reception was snowy or blurry, television was the most amazing wonderful incredible invention of all-time. Think of your awe when you first saw the iPhone and the things it could do. Now multiply that by a million. That was TV in the ‘50s.

Every afternoon every one of us came home and turned on this magic box. And we all watched the exact same show. THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB on ABC. It was on five days a week and it starred kids… just like us. They were peppier than we were, could sing and dance better, and were cuter but it was still us reflected back on our television screens.

We got to know these kids – the Mouseketeers -- Cheryl, Bobby, Lonnie, Cubby, Karen, Doreen, a bunch of others, and Annette.

Annette was the one who stood out, and I can’t tell you why exactly. There was something special about her. She always seemed so accessible, so nice. Not that the other girls weren’t, but I got a vibe, even at six, that they had stage mothers just off camera ready to ground them if they sang a wrong note. Annette seemed regular, which therefore made her special.

At a time when girls were this complete mystery to me I still felt that if I knew Annette in real life that she would be my friend. She wouldn’t care that I was younger and kind of goofy-looking and couldn’t sing or dance if the Nazis were holding my parents. She would still accept me. Now multiply that by fifty million.

Annette was also the first Mouseketeer to noticeably uh, develop. So she stood out in that way too. If she wasn’t every little boy’s first crush before, that certainly sealed it.

Later she went on to record some icky pop records and star in a series of BEACH PARTY movies with Frankie Avalon. It was the early ‘60s version of FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY. By then she had large helmet hair and never wore string bikinis. But it was Annette. Just seeing her without the mouse ears was erotic enough.

She disappeared from the public eye and raised her own family.  After twenty-five years I'd say she was entitled to a little me time. 

It breaks my heart to think that she suffered the last twenty years of her life with MS and sacrificed a normal childhood to better all of ours. If it’s any comfort, she was truly loved by an entire generation. And we mourn her passing deeply. You never forget your first. Thank you, Annette, for being my dear friend even though I never met you.

41 comments:

Kathy said...

My mom has five sisters, and they'd all huddle around the TV for the MMClub to come on. They each "claimed" one of the Mousketeers that they got to be that day. She said there would be a tense silence until Annette introduced herself, and then each one of them would scream, "I'M Annette!" I don't know if they fought it out after, but Annette was the number one favorite of six little girls in Utah....

Mary Stella said...

What a lovely, heartfelt tribute, Ken. I, too, was a regular viewer of the Mickey Mouse Club. The Mouseketeers were our friends.

I also always wanted to hang out on the ranch with Spin and Marty.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

What a lovely tribute. Thanks for writing it.

Roger Owen Green said...

My first TV crush. I was so sad.

Harley said...

I really liked your tribute. It's too bad you never met Annette. I met her at a Disneyland promotion a bunch of radio stations were doing in 1989. When I saw her, I was starstruck. I had to say hello, when I did, she couldn't have been nicer. Just like on TV.

Anonymous said...

This is the third time I've cried over Annette. 1) when I heard she had died, 2) when I read Lance Bass's tweet, and 3) reading this.

My aunt took my brother & I to see "Babes in Toyland". I whined until she bought me the paperdoll set, lol. I came a bit after TMMC, but LOVED the Beach Party movies.

Thanks for the lovely tribute, Ken.

Pam aka sisterzip

Bobby Rich said...

Amen brother. She got my prepubescent juices flowing. Literally.

thevidiot said...

I remember that Tuesday was "Guest Star Day" and one of the others (Thursday?) was "The Talent Roundup".

I went to see Jimmy Dodd in a free performance in Columbus, OH when I was five - my first "Rock Concert" as it was.

Annette did have a factor that made her pop. May she rest in peace.

AlaskaRay said...

Pretty much every teenage and prepubescent male in the country was in love with her. She was the very breast Mouskateer ever.

Charles Warn said...

Some losses DO hit harder than others Ken and thanks for expressing our thoughts on this one. Boomer detritus is an array of images and memories that tickle our funny bone or bring us back to reality.
Singing that M-i-c-k-e-y
M-o-u-s-e song was a way to connect with other kids in the 50s, and maybe even now for some. Annette introduced me to girls with boobs and I liked it at the time. Three wives later killing time in God's waiting room, I am grateful to all my 50s playmates that made this only child growing up on an Ohio farm learning about life from television curious about everything. RIP Annette, and thanks.

Toledo said...

Videoit, Thursday was Circus Day. Talent Roundup Day was Friday.

John said...

Being a little younger, I first saw Annette during the 1960s syndicated MMC re-runs on WNEW in New York. By then, even for a kid a certain sense of reality had set in, because the full-of-energy Jimmy Dodd you saw on the show was dead, and an older Annette was already in morning reruns from the 1959 season of The Danny Thomas Show.

But we are to the point now that stars who were kids during the early days of television are now, if not in their dotage, old enough so that their deaths, while saddening, are no longer a major shock, and can't help remind us that, if they were only a few years older than we were as kids, we're traveling on the same path, too.

bettyd said...

I actually liked the Back to the Beach movie she did with Frankie around the time she was first diagnosed. Not to PAY for it, but it amused me one afternoon on cable. They both made a lot of fun of their 60s images - Hair Helmut and all.

Anonymous said...

I gotta confess--I've had a 50 year crush on Annette, but not a 55 year. My favorite Mouseketeer was Darlene (in later years sent to prison on fraud charges), but when those horrible Beach Party movies came out I fell I love. What an absolute babe in every sense, sexy and sweet.

Victor Velasco said...

Thanks, Ken. You really nailed it; everything from the niceness to the figure to the courage...as Mickey would say "big do-inns"

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

I loved Annette, and there's a beautiful quote from her at the end of this article that brought tears to my eyes.

Five Strange Facts about the Life of Annette Funicello

Anonymous said...

She was to preteens what Dick
Clark was to teens. An Icon of
huge proportions.
They both made huge impressions
to us very impressionable kids.

RCP said...

Though I was too young to connect with TMMC, Annette has been a decades-long presence through reruns, the Beach movies, her public appearances throughout the years, and yes even the Skippy Peanut Butter commercials. A lovely woman. Thanks for this sweet tribute.

Debby G. said...

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with progressive (the worst kind) MS a few years before Annette's diagnosis, and died a few years before her, after being bedridden in a nursing home for many years. It's a horrible disease.

Brule Eagan said...

I'm still in tears over this. Nicely written, Ken.

Wally said...

"Annette was also the first Mouseketeer to noticeably uh, develop."

Would that make her a titmouse?

Nonsensically, that's a lovely bird.

Canda said...

It was reported that Annette thought Funicello was "too ethnic" and wanted to change her name, but Walt Disney said he liked her name just the way it was.

Nothing captured the spirit of what we thought was wholesome for children to watch than the Mickey Mouse Club. Compare that today where Disney and everyone else pushes the envelope all the time with sexual images to young kids to make a buck.

One could argue, of course, that the 50s was really about seeing white children and people on TV, and not minorities. I grant that, but the idea of reinforcing values for families was important.

cadavra said...

Your observation that we were the first TV generation is spot-on. We ran home from school every day as small children to watch MMC, then a decade later did the same thing with DARK SHADOWS. I've given up trying to explain to younger folks (who are super-jaded by having almost literally everything at their disposal on their phones) how magical that time seemed.

Manti Ectiof said...

Check out her web site for some interesting information along with a truly informative video that will bring tears that her husband posted regarding the debilitating effects of MS on Annette. He must be one hell of a man.

http://annetteconnection.com/

Joy Rothke said...

It was the best TV show ever. Fifty plus years later, I still think so. (I do not acknowledge the existence of any other MMC.

Cap'n Bob said...

I was also a big fan of Annette, but my heart belonged to Cheryl. Now they're both gone.

Rick Ollerman said...

Hit me hard, too. And the news of writer Iain Banks. Tears have been shed this week.

Mister Charlie said...

You said all the words we 50s boys are feeling. Perfect. I will ALWAYS love her.

Mister Charlie said...

One other thing, I went to Google Images and input Annette Funicello and my God was she a lovely, lovely woman. Just gorgeous, a model really and fashionista in the early 60s. sigh

Anonymous said...

My sister took a dance class in the early 1960's and Annette was in it. Every girl's brother and quite a few fathers were there every week but they all disappared after Annette stopped coming to class. Whatever "it" is, she sure had it.

Tom Quigley said...

I used to watch the Mickey Mouse Club and think that she had the sexiest ears ever... And her real ones weren't bad either...

Julie M. C. said...

I remember in grade school that a rumor went around that there had been a train accident and several mouseketeers had died - one of them Annette. So many grade schoolers were crying that they almost had to send everyone home. I also remember the MMC on Wednesdays "Today is a day that is filled with surprises - nobody knows what's going to happen - To day" Can't remember the rest of the words. Sad day for us all.

Michelle said...



Anonymous said...

/\
||

http://www.avclub.com/articles/10-episodes-that-show-how-cheers-stayed-great-for,96297/

Anonymous said...

Hey Beav...Joe Nasty here. I got to hug her once at Disneyland, Florida. All I could say is that she was my first crush!

JACK BENNY said...

thanks for your nice remembrance, Ken...Annette personified the fabulous Fifties era, which is looking all the better today... Some wrote her off as past her time but those values and culture are timeless mor @ http://oldiescountry.blogspot.com/ and http://OldiesCountry.com Look for tribute to Annette Sunday April 14 , 1 pm on ME TV, thats Memorable TV thru Hula

Lorimartian said...

The Mousekegirls looked just like this viewer at that age - no perfectly tweezed eyebrows, obvious make-up, etc. It was a variety show for kids featuring talented boys and girls working together, having fun, and inviting us to join them. We did and we remember. Sigh.

Pokey said...

Like John who wrote on 4/9/13, I,too, first saw her in reruns..I was certainly OLD ENOUGH by her beach movies's time (mid 1960s) to know about and to have a crush on her.... she makes me sigh even to this day like no other boy (but Walt Disney certainly knew that, despite having preceded Annette to the Hollywood of the Great Beyond back in 1966).RIP, my longtime fantasy sweetheart..and those of many others..
(As you can guess from my username, I'm also a fan of (the original) Gumby series which shared another attractive brunette--Ginny(ie) Tyler (as voice) with the syndicated Mouse Club.

Steve C.

Anonymous said...

Annette is my Great Aunt. Even though I never got to meet her, I love her. She is family. Love and miss you Great Auntie Annette.

Tennessee Craig said...

Like millions of boys, I grew up thinking I wanted a girl, just like Annette. And, Oh I did. I met the love of my life at 16 y.o, petite, Black Hair, calm, loving, the girl next door (2 doors down). On my 17 Birthday we married, and been married almost 51 years now, and it all started with watching ANNETTE, THE GIRL OF MY DREAMS. Thank you, Annette. We ALL LOVE YOU STILL !!!!