Enduring Mouseketeer: Annette Funicello was the darling of a generation

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Americana usually fades unremarked into the mists of nostalgia one soda fountain, chrome bumper or crew-cut at a time, but then Americana usually does not take human form. Annette Funicello was an exception.

One of the first Mouseketeers on the old "Mickey Mouse Club" TV show, she died last Monday in Bakersfield, Calif., at the age of 70. She was once the young sweetheart of a generation, a reminder still of a time and place in American life that can never be recaptured but also never forgotten. No fading away for her, no reacting to her death without a note of sorrow, for it's hard to think of the 1950s without thinking of Annette Funicello.

Walt Disney, who built an entertainment industry based on wholesomeness in an innocent time, had no better representative of his brand than Annette, whose niceness animated her singing and dancing as a Mouseketeer from the moment as a 12-year-old she joined the original cast.

Beloved by a generation of boys and girls in the 1950s, Ms. Funicello appeared later in movies that had the modest young actress wearing bikinis at the beach in scenes that flirted with being a bit racy though by today's standards were tame.

But her star burned brightest when it first dawned. Why she among other cute Mouseketeers became a special favorite is something old fans can debate. It may simply be that young boys otherwise afraid of the mysterious tribe of girls were put at ease by this friendly girl in mouse ears and young girls never saw her as a competitor. She was everyone's girl next door.

Nobody really wanted her to grow up and shed her wholesome image. With a few forays back into show business, she settled into the life of a mother of three children and for the last 25 or so years battled multiple sclerosis, the complications of which eventually killed her. But in the words of the old TV show's theme song, she still holds the banner high and the jamboree she joined is secure in memory.

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