Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon

Remembering Annette Funicello: Simply Annette

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon
Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon

Annette Funicello’s TV-film career flowered in the late fifties thanks to Walt Disney’s unerring eye for talent and all-American appeal, and his entertainment corporation’s ability to market her as America’s sweetheart and “triple threat”: dancer, singer, and actress.

Her earliest training was in dancing, well displayed on the Mickey Mouse Club (1955-1959) where she caught Walt’s (she always called him “Mr. Disney”) attention as a dark-haired standout among the “mice.” Annette thought of herself as a dancer, and with characteristic modesty, judged  herself as merely adequate as a singer and actress.

There seemed to be no artificial sweetener about her; her modesty never came off as though it had been manufactured by an agent or studio coach.

Annette Funicello
Annette Funicello

The plan for countless teenage boys of the late fifties and sixties was to date a sexy beauty like Ann-Margret but  eventually settle down with a sweet, reliable “doll” like Annette.

On a flood of fan letters, she emerged from the  MMC chorus line to be  featured in two seasons of the popular “Spin and Marty” serial (1956-1957), and then in a serial titled simply “Annette” (1958), in which she plays an unsophisticated but honest farm-bred orphan confronting the cruel snobbery of  some suburban teens. Guess who wins.

For a while she was entirely a Disney property, appearing in “The Shaggy Dog” (1959), “The Horse Masters” (1961), and “Babes in Toyland” (1961) opposite Tommy Sands. “Babes” was not a particularly successful effort, but she was subsequently deemed a good match-up with Frankie Avalon for a series of “B” sand-and-song movies starting with “Beach Party” (1963) and never rising much above this level.

Disney’s insistence that she not wear navel-exposing bikinis in these loan-out films has been criticized as somewhat tyrannical, but she herself accepted it as coming from someone who cared about her image and career.

Bill Kaser on Disney Street
Bill Kaser on the corner of Dopey Drive and Mickey Avenue

Her latter day sequel with Avalon, “Back to the Beach” (1990), was noteworthy mainly as her nostalgic farewell feature film.

The courage and dignity she showed in dealing with the onset of  Multiple Sclerosis (revealed publicly in 1992) is well known by her fans. (Read more at The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.)

She said in a late interview that in her dawning stardom, she thought she should anglicize her name as so many stars had done. Walt asked if she wasn’t proud of her Italian heritage. That convinced her to keep her family name.

This may be just one of the reasons that in interviews after his death, she would tear-up when recalling the days when she was guided by “Mr. Disney.”

Share your Annette Funicello memories in the comments below.


10 responses to “Remembering Annette Funicello: Simply Annette”

  1. John Rall Avatar
    John Rall

    I had the good fortune to meet and speak with Annette on two occasions. Both times I found her to be even more beautiful than she appeared on the screen. Annette was friendly, engaging, modest and did not exhibit any of the pretensions we see and hear about in other celebrities. Annette would never be caught saying “Do you know who I am?” She would never assume anyone knew who she was, nor would she think her celebrity would give her special status. We all knew that about her. Frankie Avalon, her longtime costar in movies on television and singing said he would often tell Annette that everyone he met would say how much they loved her. Avalon said Funicello was always surprised. She would say “really?”, Avalon remembered. One of Annette’s cousins once told a friend of mine that Annette was the most normal person in the family. Her cousin noted that “Annette was a regular person and would never acknowledge her public persona when they were all together.” We all knew that about Funicello. That’s is why she earned the title “America’s girl next
    door”. We all loved her for her talent and her good looks. Most of all, millions of us the world over loved Funicello for who she was. Annette was one of us. RIP Pineapple Princess.

  2. Alexandra Avatar

    As a child, I watched the Mickey Mouse Club and Annettte was my favorite. She had a special aura somehow, perhaps due to being Disney’s pick of the “mice.”

  3. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    Hey, Bill, welcome to Reel Life!

    I happen to know the author of this article, and know that he is probably still wearing his black armband. Totally in puppy love with Annette as a youngster, he probably has yet to realize they both grew up.

  4. Chris Yonts Avatar
    Chris Yonts

    R.I.P. beautiful baby!

  5. Sheryl Avatar

    Ah, the Mickey Mouse Club was one of favorite ways to entertain myself as a child. And all Annette’s movies- wonderful!

  6. James Minshew Avatar

    I still kiss the screen…

  7. geoff Avatar

    i can remember not being able till wait till school finished so i get race home to watch the mickey mouse club & spin & marty
    rip you beautiful angel i hope your pain has gone in your 2nd life

    1. Bro Avatar

      Geoff, Watch for my upcoming article on this site about my tour of Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch where Spin and Marty (starring Annette in seasons 2 and 3) was filmed. Bill K

      1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

        Looking forward to it! Love your reports from where things were actually filmed out there.

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