Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Goodnight Annette.....

     Annette Funicello passed away yesterday at the age of 70. She had been battling Multiple Sclerosis since 1992. and her cheerful yet steely determination in the face of the disease had made her a hero to the many millions and their families who deal with it. For many baby boomers it just reminded them why they had fallen in love with her in the first place.
     She was born Utica, NY in 1942 and after World War II, they moved to Southern California. Her parents put her in dance and music lessons, as much to overcome shyness than anything else. It was there that, during a performance of "Swan Lake" that Walt Disney was looking for young talent for his upcoming children's program, "The Mickey Mouse Club" discovered her. She was not only the last one chosen, but one of the few personally picked by Disney himself. He was very protective of her and her image, this manifested himself later in her singing career and in the Beach movies with Frankie Avalon.
     Her perky innocence and beauty caught the eye of a whole generation of teenaged boys as American got to watch her grow up on their screens. This even extended to other artists as well. For a short time a young Paul Anka dated, but between Disney's protective care and just the amount of work she was doing, it never got off the ground. It did however, give a heartbroken Anka the inspiration to write one his biggest hits, "Puppy Love".
     The "Club" also gave her a start in the music business. She was never excited about this part of her career as she never saw herself as a singer, but because of her popularity on the TV screen, and the talents of producer Tutti Camarata (double tracking vocals can be a beautiful thing) gave her several top 40 hits. She left Disney to do a series of "Beach Party" movies with Frankie Avalon from 1963-65. Those children who watched her grow up on the club, were now enthusiastic fans of the grown up Annette, but even then she (thanks to some advice from Disney) showed taste in how she was seen in onscreen romances, and in her swimwear.
      As time went on, she settled in as a wife, mother, and occasional pitchwoman (I grew up watching her in Skippy peanut butter ads), but in doing a comeback movie, a spoof of 60's beach movies again co-starring with Avalon called, "Back to the Beach" she began having problems with her equilibrium. In seeing a doctor, she was diagnosed with MS. Those problems with walking began rumors that she was having problems with alcohol, so rather than withdraw, she came out nationally with her illness, and soon became a spokesperson for the fight against the disease.
     Unless you grew up in the late 50/early 60's, it's hard to imagine her impact. Her influence was as much about who she was than what she did, but in an age where parents still felt very threatened (real or imagined) about rock and roll and negative Hollywood images. She was a willing role model for a generation of boys who wanted to date someone like her (only for a Coke or maybe to a dance however), or girls who wanted to be her. Below you can find clips from her career and a special interview with her and Avalon.

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