Monday, April 8, 2013

Innocence Gone ... Annette is Dead

For my fellow oldsters, Annette Funicello was a biggie during our youth. She died today.

And for you youngsters, ask someone among the oldsters to tell you about Annette and what she meant to the M-I-C-K-E-Y (why?, because we love you) M-O-U-S-E Club that we all watched so faithfully on black and white TV during the '50s.

Annette Funicello, Mickey Mouse Club Star, Dead at 70 has the news:

With The Mickey Mouse Club, 1955-1959

"Annette Funicello, the former star of “The Mickey Mouse Club,” is dead at the age of 70.

Funicello was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987 and soon after became a spokesperson for research into the treatment of the disease, which attacks the central nervous system. . . .

Funicello popped–literally popped, sideways and smiling—onto black and white living room screens, mouse ears firmly attached, announcing her name: Annette! (In block letters, it was displayed on her t-shirt, just in case, mid-show, you forgot.)

The most popular Mouseketeer in the original 1950s “Mickey Mouse Club” cast, Funicello was soon receiving 6,000 fan letters a month. Boys drooled over her. Girls rooted for her. And until her death on Monday, following a more than 20-year battle with multiple sclerosis, Annette remained swathed in innocence, untainted by scandal, a Disney star incapable of blemishing the brand.

Born in Utica, N.Y., Annette moved with her Italian-American parents to Los Angeles at age four. She was reportedly enrolled in dance classes to cure her shyness—and indeed, a shadow of insecurity always moved behind that sweet face. Discovered by Walt Disney himself–when she was dancing the lead in a local recital of “Swan Lake”—she was soon spun off into a Mouse Club serial, “Walt Disney Presents: Annette.”. . .

Annette Funicello in “Beach Party” (1963).

All this was happening while, in an alternative universe, Elvis rocked, Chuck Berry duck-walked and Jerry Lee crossed state lines with his underage bride. Annette’s rebellion never went beyond displaying a bit of a belly button in the series of six “Beach Party” movies she made with her lifelong friend, Frankie Avalon. . . .

Like a Norman Rockwell painting—or a Disney fairy tale—Annette continued her clean-cut path, even finding it difficult to publish her memoirs because her life was so tame. She married agent Jack Gilardi in 1965, and the pair had three children before a quiet divorce. (The kids would provide a backdrop to her Skippy peanut butter commercials, back in the days when peanuts didn’t kill.) In 1986 she married horse breeder Glen Holt, and reunited with Avalon for a Beach Party sequel and tour.

It was while filming “Back to the Beach” in 1987 that Annette first noticed the symptoms: Getting up, she had trouble gaining her footing in the sand. Rumors that she had a drinking problem—the star was spotted, wobbly, leaving a restaurant—finally led her to reveal her diagnosis in 1992. And with this bit of drama—unasked for, undeserved—Annette’s life story was suddenly saleable. Her autobiography, “A Dream is A Wish Your Heart Makes,” its title taken from a Disney “Cinderella” song, was published in 1994; Eva La Rue played Annette in the top-rated TV movie the following year.

In the next decade, first leaning on a cane, then requiring a wheelchair, her vision fading by the day, Annette, by all accounts, never lost her hopeful spirit and gentle grace. “I didn’t go public for a long time,” she told People in 1992, “because I believed people wanted to think that nothing bad ever happens to Annette.”"

Summing Up

First, we get the news of the death of Margaret Thatcher and now Annette Funicello.

That's more than enough bad news for one day.

Thanks. Bob.

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