It isn't good when a person you haven't about in years starts to appear on your facebook timeline. Such as the case of Annette Funicello. When I saw her picture pop up with those Mouseketeer ears, I thought God, she was pretty. Then I also thought: Oh God, not now.
I'm not a baby boomer. I never got to see man on the moon for the first time (in fact, the last time they walked on the moon I was six months old. I try not to take it personally) I never got to be in a be-in. I I didn't do a happy dance when Nixon left office (or maybe I did. I was two) That doesn't mean that I felt this wave of sadness when I heard about Annette's death. She was one of those people who was always on TV. If there was a fifties/sixties special on, no doubt she would be there, talking about being a Mouseketeer or a beach bunny. She was that nice mom that you knew had a great career back in the day, but she was someone's mom now.
According to the New York Times, she was the last one cast as a Mouseketeer. She could never call Walt Disney "Uncle Walt" like the other kids, she called him Mr. Disney. Now this I could understand: Until I was eighteen I called Meranda's parents "Mr. and Mrs. Broder" even though they said I didn't have to. Annette was shy and sweet, a brunette in a Marilyn world. Yet pretty soon she had something that complicated her life: Breasts. Yep, she had them. As dramatized in Stand By Me when the boys talked about them: "Have you noticed the A and the E are getting bigger?"
Oh God. It's mortifying enough to look down and bam! You've got breasts. Imagine doing it on live television. I would've rather had tea with Richard Nixon and John Foster Dulles than having boys discuss my growing breasts.
Pretty soon Annette started singing. Well of course she did! She also had a crush on Paul Anka. Her parents wouldn't allow her to date though. She sang "Tall Paul" for him. He wrote "Puppy Love" for her, along with the song "Annette" Fifties teen angst, sigh! She also branched out doing teen/adult roles in Disney movies in The Monkey's Uncle and Babes in Toyland. In The Parent Trap you can hear her sing "Let's Get Together" when all the campers dance.
She also decided to do something different: beach movies with Frankie Avalon. She had to get Mr. Disney's permission first. According to the New York Times, he gave her his blessing on one condition: don't show the navel. This she could do. She knew the movies weren't groundbreaking (She once said she and Frankie were Ma and Pa Kettle on the Beach) But sometimes when I get down about life, I can watch one of those films because nothing bad happens! And isn't Annette cute?
Eventually Annette "retired" to be a mother. She couldn't stop working completely; she was a spokeswoman for Skippy peanut butter. In 1987 an opportunity came up: to do another beach movie. But this was spoofing all the beach movies, and Funicello herself. She was game. Why not? So she and Frankie Avalon teamed up for Back to the Beach, an underrated musical where Annette kept countless jars of peanut butter in the pantry, yet could still dance and rock that bikini that showed no navel. Roger Ebert loved the movie, calling it "the funniest, quirkiest musical comedy since "Little Shop of Horrors." The sad and ironic thing now is they both died within days of each other, at age 70.
According to her memoir A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, Funicello started showing signs of something wrong. Hands shaking, not always making the dance cues. It was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. After keeping it quiet for a while, she revealed her MS in 1992, around the time Arthur Ashe said he had AIDS. It felt wrong: Arthur Ashe was an relatively healthy tennis player. Annette Funicello was the teen queen. How was it they got sick? It wasn't fair.
Funicello retired. Wrote a memoir. Set up a foundation, and stayed out of the public eye. Yet when word came out from the official Disney blog today she died, sympathies were genuine and heart felt. And why shouldn't it be? She was the first crush, the girl next door. She was the beach bunny. She was the mom who loved peanut butter. But most of all, she knew how to have fun. That is something many of us never learn. Maybe that's Annette Funicello's legacy. All in all, a good legacy to have.
M-I-C (See you real soon!) K-EY (Why, because we like you!) M-O-U-S-E.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries