Just thinking about her makes me smile.
Annette Funicello has always been a source of happiness in my household. Her films, the Annette mystery book series, her music- she has always been a favorite of the Pickens’ family.
Though I didn’t grow up in the 1960s, I grew up with Annette. My mom was a huge fan so I was introduced to “The Shaggy Dog” (1959) and “Babes in Toyland” (1961) at a young age.
“I had Annette books, coloring books and paper dolls growing up,” my mom, Lisa Pickens, said. “I really liked her a lot. Since she was only in movies while she was young, we didn’t see her age. There was something special about Annette.”
Even in the past two years, summer afternoons were spent downloading her songs on iTunes and watching old Mickey Mouse Club episodes and the Annette series. In the serial Annette was a “country cousin” who moves to the city to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle.
“Throughout all the years we were friends she never changed from that sweet person who cared so much about others,” said Mousketeeer Sharon Baird, on the Official Disney Fan Club. “She always had time for everyone; family, friends and fans alike. It’s no wonder she was America’s sweetheart.”
In the 1950s, Annette Funicello stood out as a Mousketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. Her background was Italian and she looked different than the other, Anglo-Saxon children.
She even suggested that she change her last name to “something more American,” but Walt Disney disagreed, saying her own name made her more unique, according to IMDB.
And her uniqueness is what made her the most popular of the original Mousketeers.
“The Disney studio wasn’t like other studios. It was just like home – it always had a small-town, family atmosphere,” she said.
Along with The Mickey Mouse Club, Annette starred in Disney films such as “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” (1964) and “Babes in Toyland.”
Her fame brought her to recording career, with records like “Hawiaannette,” “Itallianette” and “Danceannette,” but Miss Funicello didn’t think she could sing.
“The Sherman Brothers wrote a song for me for the Annette series called ‘How Will I Know My Love,’” she said in an interview. “They told me we have to put this on a single. People are writing us like crazy wanting to buy it. I told them I don’t sing. And they said, ‘Well I’m signing you to a recording contact, young lady.’ And I said yes sir, and that’s what started my singing career.”
Composer Tutti Camarata was the one who created “The Annette Sound.” This is where she would sing the song once. She then would listen to the song with headphones, while trying to sing along as exact as she could, she said.
“It gave me that larger sound that I needed, because my voice is very small with a range of about of three notes,” she laughed. “It worked. I think my favorite song was ‘Pineapple Princess.’ I was lucky enough to have five songs that made the Top 10.”
Annette was also one of the first performers to sing with the Beach Boys as they were growing in fame.
“I really shouldn’t put down my singing career, because I’m so appreciative of everything that came my way,” she said.
In interviews and in her autobiography “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” Annette seems like somebody you would run in to at the store. Annette was sweet and down to Earth, making her more relatable for her fans.
Even while she was in movies, her father still worked at a gas station, and Annette wasn’t allowed to date until she was 16, according to her New York Times obituary.
In real life, she stayed friends with fellow teen stars Frankie Avalon, Shelley Fabres and fellow Mousketeers Doreen Tracey and Cheryl Holdridge, who passed away in 2009. She was good friends with Jimmy Dodd from the Mickey Mouse Club until his death in 1964.
While she was 21-years-old and still under contract at Disney, she was approached about roles in beach films. Walt Disney approved Annette doing the films as long as she didn’t show her belly button in bathing suits, according to the New York Times.
These films included the silly, but fun, “Beach Blanket Bingo” (1965) and “Beach Party (1963).
Annette retired from films, only making a few appearances, after she married her first husband in 1965 to raise her family.
“She was always there for car pools, Hot Dog Day and the P.T.A,” her daughter said in 1994.
After they divorced, she remarried in 1986 to Glen Holt. They remained married until she passed away.
Annette returned for a few appearances in the 1980s including “Back to the Beach” (1987) with Frankie Avalon, and an appearance on the TV Show “Full House” where Michelle pronounced her last name as “Funny-Jello.”
It was in 1987, she learned she had Multiple Sclerosis and established the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.
Miss Funicello passed away today at the age of 70, and the world seems a little dimmer.
“Everyone who knew Annette, loved and respected her,” said Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Miller. “She was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, and was always so kind to everyone. She was also the consummate professional and had such great loyalty to my father. Annette will always be very special to me.”
Rest in peace, Annette. You will always remain in our hearts as you chant “Meeska-Mooska-Mouseketeer” and surf the beaches of California.
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