The old Max Factor Building was decked out with all things Disney just about a week past Valentine’s Day for the purposes of honoring an exhibit opening pertaining to one of America’s favorite sweethearts in kind, as stars the city over donned their most festive mouse ears all in deference to one of Disney’s most memorable Mouseketeers: Annette Funicello.
The Hollywood Museum’s latest celebrity retrospective–Annette: America’s Girl Next Door & The Teen of Queen, is the latest in a long line of detailed and singular displays. The exhibit itself highlights everything from Skippy Peanut Butter ads (played on a continual loop) to Pajama Party and the related album upon which Annette’s stunning voice rode in (on a most plush and nurturing night time rocking horse no doubt), and most notably, a classic keepsake: the white and green one piece worn in the aptly, yet ironically named Bikini Beach.
Additionally in the mix, personal mementos, up to and including private letters, awards, jewelry, supplementary wardrobe items, dolls, games, props, original movie posters, all manner of other boss stuff, and last but not least a signed pair of classic Mouseketeer ears!!!
Dubbed America’s most favored Mouseketeer, Annette’s image would go on to grace everything from lunch boxes, to dolls, to mystery novels via fictitious stories surrounding her persona a la Nancy Drew of the Disney World!
Said marketing hubbub spawned behind-the-talent would go on to inspire orders for 24,000 mouse-eared caps a day! But despite said commercial success Funicello would still be charged a whopping $55.00 upon misplacing a pair of distinctive felt ears, the loss of which would be also felt out of her subsequent $185.00-a-week paycheck!
Born on October 22nd 1942, success was set to settle as the crowning glory on Funicello’s precocious, pintsized head when, at the tender age of two, she made it a point to learn all the lyrics to every existing song on the current hit parade; the most stand-out set manifesting itself as “Ac-cen-tuate-the-positive”, pronounced trippingly, no doubt, off said tiny toddler’s tongue!
She would then go on to take dance lessons, and much like a little Ricky Ricardo, learn to play drums. Later, though not by much, she would enter beauty/talent contests and, at the ripe old age of nine, be dubbed Miss Willow Lake at a poolside beauty pageant!
Walt Disney would soon discover Funicello at a local recital, shaking a balletic tail feather in Swan Lake, thusly priming her for stardom in 1955 as one of the original 24 Mouseketeers on the much-anticipated Mickey Mouse Club to the fewer than 2/3 households in possession of a television and even longer awaited for those that did not (come the rerun revolution!)
Funicello would go on to become one of Disney’s most popular Mouseketeers and break star mailbox records by intercepting over 6,000 fan letters a week from not only girls but boys alike!
Having once considered changing her last name to something WASPy like “Turner”, Disney, somewhat of a secondary father figure, encouraged her to leave it be, arguing that “Annette” would most likely suffice as a simple singular namesake. This, in turn, (but not “turner”) would be her crowning familiarity long before the likes of Madonna, Cher, Rupaul yet in much more wholesome, less scheming fashion to be sure!
n 1958, 3 years after Ms. Funicello’s debut, right on the brink of the show’s forthcoming 4th season, Mr. Disney summoned her into his office. Fearful she would be fired for maturing too robustly, she alighted Disney’s doorstep with baited breath and an initially heavy heart. (Luckily “The Law of Attraction” would not invade the consciousness of most Americans for another 40-some-odd years, otherwise Funicello’s career could have gone a completely different direction had she ever acquainted herself with the works of Rhonda Byrne, and/or all too much cognitive dissonance would have had to be exercised incumbent upon the end result of said impending conversation. Oooh, is the suspense not KILLING YOU ALREADY?!?) Well, the outcome proved better than ever expected as Disney, instead, offered her an extended studio contract: the first and last ever bestowed unto a Mouseketeer along with the title role in the Annette Series!!!
From there, she would go on to take hold of her first movie role in Disney’s primary live action comedy The Shaggy Dog. She would consequently take on T.V., yet again, in the series Zorro and subsequently make her way on over to CBS to work on the acclaimed Danny Thomas sitcom Make Room for Daddy— on loan from Disney – Natch! This, all in conjunction with embarking on a recording career wherein she would belt out a number of top ten hit parade singles, not the least of which would include, Tall Paul, Pineapple Princess, and O Dio Mio. All this as a precursor to her standout Beach Party movies in which she would star with Frankie Avalon!
Though deemed wholesome and inspirational concerning contemporary American parental notions, to speak nothing of her Girl Next Door-like persona, Funicello was not bereft of any sense of rebellion. As soon as the rock n’ roll scene reared its beast-like head, this beauty took center stage as the youngest member in Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars tour along with LaVern Baker, The Drifters, Bobby Rydell, The Coasters, and Paul Anka. On an stimulating side note of celebrational trivia, Anka was inspired to write the song Puppy Love right in his living room for Funicello, whom he just happened to be dating at the time!
Despite her dogged determination in the dance, drumming and all things Disney, Funicello’s self-proclaimed focus after all the fanfare was to quit show business and birth nine children! Not only was this accomplished, but she married at the seasoned young age of 22! Aside from continuing to act and appearing on a Love Boat episode or two (this writer’s favorite), after being diagnosed with MS, was a championing and supportive force with which to be reckoned!
Stars in attendance on the opening night in question had nothing but superlatives to sling, pertaining to both the lady herself and the illustrious exhibit!
According to Hollywood Museum President and Founder Donelle Dadigan: “It is hard to believe that it has been almost 65 years since Annette Funicello, the break out child star and most celebrated of the Mouseketeers, became a household name. And, that Disney’s ‘ANNETTE’ TV serials premiered 60 years ago on Feb 11th, and were a predecessor to the ‘movie of the week,’ – It’s phenomenal success and popularity among children and adults alike, launched a genre that would eventually be called the mini-series. Although there have been many TV series that became successful using a celebrities full name in the title, including Dinah Shore, Dick Van Dyke, Patty Duke, Doris Day and even ‘Shirley Temple’s Storybook,’ – young Annette Funicello was really the first TV star to do so on the strength of only a first name, until ‘The Lucy Show’ four years later and long before Elvis, Liza, Liberace, RuPaul or Oprah.”
“Well you know how some of it [started],” inquired an enthusiastic Barbara Van Orden. “Her father worked at a gas station and Disney – Mr. Disney — Walt Disney used to go in and get his gas, and [Annette’s father] would fill up Disney’s cars… and he said, ‘I have a daughter that performs, and she sings [etc]…’ and that’s how that happened — really wonderful but one of a kind… She left quite a legacy and everybody for generations are gonna remember Annette!”
“I’m a giant Disney Nerd,” gushed Alison Arngrim of her cutely shady Disney-inspired past (on forward to the FUN in Funicello of the present). “…When the very first Mousketeers show ran, I was a baby but there’s pictures of me in my mouse ears clutching my Mickey Mouse puppet. My mother bought me a baby carriage. I was about 2 and I was stealing the other children’s doll carriages in the park. My mother says, ‘This has to stop. She’s gonna become a criminal!’ So, she got me a beautiful doll carriage. She brought it home. She put all my dolls in it… She said I was very excited and I ran up to the doll carriage, took all of my nice dolls that she’d lain in it–out, dropped them on the floor, went in the bedroom and came out with my Mickey Mouse puppet, and put him in the doll carriage and pushed him around the house! It was for Mickey. I wanted the doll carriage for Mickey…it was all about Mickey! …So it began then.
“Then when I was in Jr. High…they were rerunning the old black and white Mickey Mouse Club in the afternoon,” continued Anrgrim. “And my friend Rick Sloane…[who’s] now a horror filmmaker…and I were such nerds. We had the Mickey Mouse Club fan club, and we had T-Shirts, and we had mouse ears, and we had membership cards, and we paid dues, and we had meetings. I was vice president and it was really silly, and we would watch the show every day. We would gather up parties to go to Disneyland. We collected Disney stuff. We had a point system. If you bought certain things it was so many points, if you bought certain Disney things with Disney points you went to Disneyland, eventually you’d win like a comic book or something. But we were giant nerds! So, I know all about Spin and Marty and Circus Day and Anything Can Happen Day and it was just crazy! I’ve got the Mickey purse I’ve got many pairs of ears… I have an annual pass!”
Of Annette, Arngrim could only say: “I loved her, and then of course as the years went on, she became gorgeous, and did all the bikini movies…and then she had all the commercials…and then when she came out about M.S…she was so brave. So she’s always someone who has been a great role model and a real heroine: It’s like The Amazing Annette Funicello!!!”
Gen X actor Keith Coogan (and grandson of Jackie Coogan) was lucky enough to work with Funicello in the 80s!: “I did a Growing Pains episode with her: The Seavers vs. The Cleavers and she was an officious chaperone at the school dance that didn’t approve of the Seavers chaperoning for the dance. And they had a dance-off. And to see Annette Funicello do the mashed potato was the greatest thing in the world!!!”
On the flipside of the spectrum, Baby Boomer Darby Hinton, never worked with her, but knew someone who did, who had stories that he could not relay: “I really never got to work with Annette. So, I admired her from afar and of course…loved the show and everything else. Hagerty told me a couple of stories because he worked with her – Dan Hagerty. Unfortunately I never got to know her.”
LA Beat-Can you repeat Hagerty’s stories?
LA Beat-Hey, that’s a good quote! ‘Course if you don’t want me to put that in the article I won’t.
Hinton-I repeated it at his wake we threw him.
LA Beat-Say, that’s a little colorful anecdote leaving something to the imagination I think!
Conversely yet again, The LA Beat could only go on to have a little girl talk with the one and only adorable singer/crooner Laura Pursell: “[I remember] Beach Blanket Bingo!”
LA Beat-And did you like her in that?
Pursell-I did. I did. I thought she was awesome. She was the all-American woman. She was the All-American girl of the 50s and 60s and I wish I had met her.
LA Beat-And I love that she wasn’t blonde either.
Pursell-She wasn’t blonde. She was a brunette! … And she wasn’t a twig, she wasn’t a stick figure.
LA Beat-I think when she got older she got to be a little twiggy, but looked just as good. ‘Cause…sometimes actresses when they were curvier when they were younger, get even thinner. I think it’s ‘cause they’re not as hungry. ‘Cause they’re so used to dieting at that point anyway] and they’re not growing anymore.
Pursell-And I think it’s the city that does it to them. There’s a pressure to stay thin.
LA Beat-Also like Audra MacDonald once said before a Hollywood Bowl concert, “L.A. makes my butt look big.”
Pursell-Oh that’s hilarious and so true. I got back to Nashville and I get such a reality check becaue I’m like the smallest person there. But here, forget it.
“Well, I grew up with Annette Funicello and it was a wonderful… We all had our mouse ears and we were all so very, very excited all the time, couldn’t wait to see her and there were a lot of Mickey Mouse Clubs and there were the favorites and Annette was always the favorite,” exclaimed an adorable, wide-eyed retro-childhood charmed singer Barbara Van Orden in a brand of excitement that was clearly palpable on the night in question.
For more information on the Hollywood Museum and all its righteous displays, please visit: