This is indeed a sad day in Hollywood and world history. I'm sure, others will note the death of The Iron Lady, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Her story was chronicled last year in a movie starring Meryl Streep. Her characterization earned the actress a third Oscar. Thatcher's friendly political relationship with President Reagan was legendary, and it spell the end of the Cold War.
Annette Funicello was the lingering Disney image of youthful exuberance. The most popular member of the Mickey Mouse Club, she would eventually settle on screen into young adulthood. Her teaming with Frankie Avalon in the Beach Party movies ushered in the early 1960s with a lighthearted spirit that complimented similar characterizations such as Gidget and Tammy. Annette also had a string of pop music hits; and was well known for her strong Catholic faith in her private life. Ultimately, she became a familiar face in the fight against multiple sclerosis.
In 1955, the 12-year-old was discovered by Walt Disney when she performed as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake at a dance recital at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank. Disney cast her as one of the original Mouseketeers; the last to be selected, and one of the few cast-members personally selected by Walt Disney himself. Annette proved to be very popular, and by the end of the first season of Mickey Mouse Club, she was receiving 6,000 letters a month, according to her Disney Legends biography.
After the Mickey Mouse Club, she remained under contract with Disney for a time, and had a noted recurring television role in Zorro. Annette also co-starred in Disney-produced movies such as The Shaggy Dog, Babes in Toyland, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, and The Monkey’s Uncle. Although uncomfortable as a singer, Funicello scored a number of hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and mostly penned by the Sherman Brothers, including: Tall Paul, O Dio Mio, Train of Love (written by Paul Anka), and Pineapple Princess. They were released by Disney’s Buena Vista label.
She moved on from Disney to become a teen idol, starring in a series of Beach Party films with Frankie Avalon and Harvey Lembeck for American International Pictures. They included Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Pajama Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. The wholesome image earned in these films gained her a reference in the Grease song… Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee. As a personal favor to Walt Disney, she was the only co-star to wear a one-piece bathing suit. Annette and Frankie were reunited in 1987 for the Paramount release, Back to the Beach. She became a familiar spokesperson on television for Skippy Peanut Butter.
Funicello announced in 1992 that she suffered from multiple sclerosis. She opened the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation. Annette remained lifelong friends with Shelley Fabares, Tommy Kirk, and Frankie Avalon. Her autobiography, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: The Annette Funicello Story was written in 1994.
Despite the loss in her ability to walk, and eventually, to speak, she was vigilant in bringing openess to her disease, which eventually cost the star her life. Annette Funicello was 70.
Milo O’Shea was a serviceable character actor, whose career transcended the end of the Studio Era of filmmaking to guest-starring roles during television’s golden age. He began acting on the stage, and then moved into motion pictures in the 1960s. He’s best known for playing the tempermental judge in The Verdict, which starred Paul Newman, James Mason, and Jack Warden.
His film career included roles in Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet, Barbarella, Theatre of Blood, and The Purple Rose of Cairo. The affable Irishman also made memorable appearances in The Golden Girls, The West Wing, Cheers, and Frasier.
Milo O’Shea was 86.
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