Annette Funicello 1942-2013
What can one say about the first girl who stole your heart. The girl who inspired Paul Anka to write the song “Puppy Love” to commemorate their sweet and chaste romance when they budding teenagers? The girl who was able to forge deep and lasting friendships with some of the biggest names in teenage entertainment of the 60s: Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Shelley Fabares, Paul Anka and Tommy Kirk.
Annette Funicello was put through the Disney star making machine and came out unscathed, despite her extreme popularity and the demands made of her time, probably because she received guidance from a set of caring parents and an over protective Walt Disney, who took the time to keep her grounded through love, understanding and a genuine interest in her well-being. Those are the very qualities she exhibited throughout her life. Everyone who knew her loved her, even those who didn’t did.
One of the original Mouseketeer’s, Annette and the others blended very well together as a team but it wasn’t difficult to note that she had that extra something special. She appeared in a few of the serials within the show including all the Spin and Marty sequels and Walt Disney Presents: Annette, with Richard Deacon (Mel Cooley from The Dick Van Dyke Show) as her co-star. It was during a hayride scene where Annette sang the song “How Will I Know My Love” that launched her singing career. The Disney Studio got so much mail from that one song that they released it as a single and gave Annette her singing career, much to her chagrin. She knew she wasn’t the greatest singer in the world but went with the flow anyway. She credited “the Annette sound” to her record producer, Tutti Camarata, who worked for Disney. Camarata had her double-track her vocals, matching her first track as closely as possible on the second recording to achieve a fuller sound than her voice would otherwise produce. A teen idol was born.
Annette moved on from Disney starring in a series of Beach Party movies with Frankie Avalon for American International Pictures. These included Beach Party 1963, Muscle Beach Party 64, Bikini Beach 64, Pajama Party 64, Beach Blanket Bingo 65 and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini 65. Although all the plots of these films were essentially the same nobody cared because the movies were so much fun. Full of energy, surfing, singing and dancing on the beach, the films glorified the teenage southern California culture. In 1979 Annette became the national spokesperson for Skippy Peanut Butter and did a series of television commercials.
In 1987 Annette and Frankie teamed again for the Paramount parody of their earlier sand and surf films, Back to the Beach. It was during filming that Annette began to notice strange things happening with her body. She later learned that it was the onset of Multiple Sclerosis. She kept that secret from her friends and family and finally announced her condition in 1992 to combat vile rumors that her impaired ability to walk was the result of alcoholism. She lost the ability to walk in 2004 and the ability to speak in 2009. She lost the battle with MS yesterday April 8, she was 70 years old.
Disney Studio’s issued this statement:
“Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney Legend. She will forever hold a place in our hearts as one of Walt Disney’s brightest stars, delighting an entire generation of baby boomers with her jubilant personality and endless talent. Annette was well-known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace. All of us at Disney join with family, friends, and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life.”
And celebrate I will: did I mention how good she looked in clothes?