May 17, 2018
Disney darling Annette Funicello on our episode cover from 1978. Annette was one of the original members of the Mousketeers. She joined "The Mickey Mouse Club" at age 13 in October 1955. Fans who viewed her every afternoon on their small black and white TV sets sent her over 6,000 letters a week! The singer/actress was born in Utica, New York but moved to Los Angeles with her family when she was three. Funicello began her professional career as a child performer at the age of twelve. She lived with her parents until the day she married. Discovery Walt Disney first discovered Annette when she had the lead in "Swan Lake" in Burbank, California. A lifelong business relationship would follow. She would always call him "Mr. Disney" although she said she thought of him as her second father. He wanted her to call him "Uncle Walt" instead. The beautiful brunette with the wholesome looks was the most popular Mousketeer on the show. "Mickey is more than a mouse to me," she once said. "I am honored to call him my friend." The Mickey Mouse Club gave Annette an opportunity to sing and dance. Although she didn't consider herself a singer, she did record a few Top 40 hit including "Tall Paul" (about Paul Anka) and "Pineapple Princess." It had been said that all the boys wanted to date her and all the girls wanted to be her. First love Annette's first love was singer/songwriter Paul Anka. In 1960, he wrote a song called "Puppy Love" about their relationship. Paul said in an interview that her parents were always telling them it has to be puppy love and you can't possibly be thinking of marriage. Annette was thinking of marrying Paul but Paul felt he was too young and didn't want to take the plunge. Annette called herself "The Queen of Teen." After the Mouse Club, her Disney contract was extended to a film deal. She stared in such Disney favorites as "The Shaggy Dog," and "Babes in Toyland." [caption id="attachment_953" align="alignright" width="208"] Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello as they were during the Beach Party era.[/caption] When she was asked to sign on to a number of beach party movies with Frankie Avalon, Walt Disney gave her his blessing but she remembered: "Mr. Disney said to me one day, 'Annette, I have a favor to ask of you. I know all the girls are wearing bikinis, but you have an image to uphold. I would appreciate it if you would wear a one-piece suit." I did and I never regretted it." As the seven beach party movies progressed, however, Annette can be seen in two piece bathing suits. But true to Walt Disney, she never showed her navel. The America-International Pictures beach party movies from 1963-1968 all had the same plot: an innocent boy and an innocent girl fall in love in a wholesome way with some silly antics thrown in. The beach was the co-star. Frankie's character was always called "Frankie" but Annette was either named "Didi" or "Dolores." It didn't matter that the stars of the films were pale Italian kids instead of California blondes with golden tans frolicking in Malibu. The movies were hits! In 1987, Frankie and Annette returned to the big screen as co-producers and stars of "Back to the Beach." This time they played the parents of troublesome teens. In 1989 and 1990 Frankie and Annette hit the road for a nostalgic concert tour. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) In 1992, Annette shocked the world when she revealed that she had been battling Multiple Sclerosis (MS) since 1987. She wanted to keep it quiet for as long as possible but her staggering became noticeable and there were whispers that she was drinking too much. Even Frankie Avelon questioned her. "I didn't go public about it for a long time because I believed people wanted to think that nothing bad ever happens to Annette. I didn't want them to panic. So for a long time I tried to hide both my divorce from Jack in 1982 and later the MS. But when I went public, the letter that came in both times were so supportive." Annette was a strict Catholic and used her faith to help her in her 25 year battle with the disease.
"I have great faith there is a reason God wanted me to have MS," she told the Californian in 1992. "I think the reason is for me to help others and to raise funds.She and her husband Glen founded the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases in 1993. The foundation remains committed to finding promising therapies for the diseases. Annette's goal was always to settle down and be a wife and mother. She was married to her agent Jack Gilardi from 1965-1981. They had three children: Gina, Jack, Jr. and Jason. In 1986, Annette married horsebreeder Glen Holt. He remained by her side until her death on April 8, 2013. She was 70 years old. Links: The Book: https://amzn.to/2HrXUUS The Podcast on iTunes: https://apple.co/2HGtPQZ Hear, rate and review the Podcast in iTunes! The site: http://CelebrityArchaeology.com/podcastepisode24