The Talented Annette Funicello Part One
Annette Joanne Funicello (October 22, 1942 – April 8, 2013) was an American actress and singer. Funicello began her professional career as a child performer at the age of twelve. She rose to prominence as one of the most popular “Mouseketeers” on the original Mickey Mouse Club. As a teenager, she transitioned to a successful career as a singer with the pop singles “O Dio Mio”, “Tall Paul” and “Pineapple Princess”, as well as establishing herself as a film actress, popularizing the successful “Beach Party” genre alongside co-star Frankie Avalon during the mid-1960s.
Funicello in 1968
Annette Joanne Funicello
October 22, 1942
Utica, New York
April 8, 2013 (aged 70)
Cause of death
Complications from multiple sclerosis
Jack Gilardi (m. 1965; div. 1981)
Glen Holt (m. 1986; her death 2013)
In 1992, Funicello announced that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She died of complications from the disease on April 8, 2013.
Annette Joanne Funicello was born in Utica, New York, to Italian Americans Virginia Jeanne (née Albano; August 2, 1921 – September 2, 2007) and Joseph Edward Funicello (February 21, 1916 – May 20, 2009). Her family moved to Southern California when she was four years old.
The Mickey Mouse Club
Funicello as a Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club (1956)
Annette took dancing and music lessons as a child to overcome shyness. In 1955, the 12-year-old was discovered by Walt Disney when she performed as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake at a dance recital at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank, California. Disney cast her as one of the original “Mouseketeers”. She was the last to be selected, and one of the few cast-members to be personally selected by Walt Disney himself. She proved to be very popular and by the end of the first season of The Mickey Mouse Club, she was receiving 6,000 letters a month, according to her Disney Legends biography.
In addition to appearing in many Mouseketeer sketches and dance routines, Funicello starred in several serials on The Mickey Mouse Club. These included Adventure in Dairyland, Walt Disney Presents: Annette (which co-starred Richard Deacon), and the second and third Spin and Marty serials – The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty and The New Adventures of Spin and Marty. In a hayride scene in the Annette serial, she performed the song that launched her singing career. The studio received so much mail about “How Will I Know My Love” (lyrics by Tom Adair, music by Frances Jeffords and William Walsh), that Walt Disney issued it as a single, and gave Funicello (somewhat unwillingly) a recording contract.
A proposed live-action feature Rainbow Road to Oz was to have starred some of the Mouseketeers, including Darlene Gillespie as Dorothy and Funicello as Ozma. Preview segments from the film aired on September 11, 1957, on Disneyland’s fourth anniversary show. By then, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz had already been shown on CBS Television for the first time. Theories on why the film was abandoned include Disney’s failure to develop a satisfactory script, and the popularity of the MGM film on television. Disney ultimately replaced this film project with a new adaptation of Babes in Toyland (1961), which starred Funicello as “Mary Contrary”.
Singing and acting
Funicello and Richard Tyler on The Danny Thomas Show (1959)
After the Mickey Mouse Club, she remained under contract with Disney for a time, with television roles in Zorro, Elfego Baca and The Horsemasters. For Zorro, she played Anita Cabrillo in a three-episode storyline about a teen-aged girl arriving in Los Angeles to visit a father who does not seem to exist. This role was reportedly a birthday present from Walt Disney, and the first of two different characters played opposite Guy Williams as Zorro. Annette also co-starred in Disney-produced movies such as The Shaggy Dog, Babes in Toyland, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones and The Monkey’s Uncle. The Monkey’s Uncle featured Annette singing with the Beach Boys.
Although uncomfortable being thought of as a singer, Funicello had a number of pop record hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, mostly written by the Sherman Brothers and including: “Tall Paul”, “First Name Initial”, “O Dio Mio”, “Train of Love” (written by Paul Anka) and “Pineapple Princess”. They were released by Disney’s Buena Vista label. Annette also recorded “It’s Really Love” in 1959, a reworking of an earlier Paul Anka song called “Toot Sweet”. Paul Anka was noted to have a crush on her, however, Walt Disney overprotected Annette, which broke Paul’s heart. This resulted in his song “Puppy Love”, which was inspired by his hopeless romantic crush on Annette.
In an episode of the Disney anthology television series titled “Disneyland After Dark”, Funicello can be seen singing live at Disneyland. Walt Disney was reportedly a fan of 1950s pop star Teresa Brewer and tried to pattern Funicello’s singing on the same style. However, Funicello credits “the Annette sound” to her record producer, Tutti Camarata, who worked for Disney in that era. Camarata had her double-track her vocals, matching her first track as closely as possible on the second recording to achieve a fuller sound than her voice would otherwise produce. Early in her career, she appeared on the NBC interview program Here’s Hollywood.
Funicello and Frankie Avalon at the height of the “Beach Party” era
Beach icon and spokeswoman
Funicello moved on the from Disney to become a teen idol, starring in a series of “Beach Party” movies with Frankie Avalon for American International Pictures. These started with Beach Party (1963), which was so successful American International Pictures signed Funicello to a seven-year contract, and was followed by Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Pajama Party (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965).
When she was cast in her first beach movie, Walt Disney requested that she wear only modest bathing suits and keep her navel covered. However, she wore a pink two-piece in Beach Party, a white two-piece fishnet suit in the second film (Muscle Beach Party) and a blue and white bikini in the third (Bikini Beach). All three swimsuits bared her navel, particularly in Bikini Beach, where it is visible extensively during close up shots in a sequence early in the film when she meets Frankie Avalon’s “Potato Bug” character outside his tent.
She and Avalon became iconic as “beach picture” stars and were reunited for the Paramount film Back to the Beach (1987), parodying their own surf-and-sand films two decades earlier. They toured the country as a singing act.
In 1979, Funicello began starring in a series of television commercials for Skippy peanut butter.
Her autobiography, dictated to Patricia Romanowski and published in 1994, was A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story. The title was taken from a song from the Disney movie Cinderella. A television film based on the book, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: The Annette Funicello Story, was made in 1995. In the final scene, the actress portraying Funicello (Eva LaRue), using a wheelchair, turns away from the camera — turning back, it is Funicello herself, who delivered a message to a group of children. During this period, she produced a line of teddy bears for the Annette Funicello Collectible Bear Company. The last collection in the series was made in 2004. She also had her own fragrance called “Cello, by Annette”.