Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Annette, Annette, Annette. Annette Funicello passes on.

This has been a sad week for a number of different constituencies.

For Tories, there’s the passing of Dame Margaret (“No Compromise”) Thatcher, who is now out to permanent pasture with Ronald Reagan and John Paul II. I suppose they can pass the time crabbing about liberals.

For those who prized floral shifts in hot pink and lime green, Lily Pulitzer has passed on to the Palm Beach in the Sky.

And for us Baby Boomers who grew up envying the kids in the Mickey Mouse Club, and who craved a trip to Disneyland, Annette Funicello  the nicey-nice-nicest of the original Mouseketeers, has died at the age of 70.

I have always had a special place in my little heart of hearts for Annette. At a time when kids of TV were for the most part blandly WASP-y, Annette was clearly one of us. No, she obviously wasn’t one of us as in Irish Catholic, but she was obviously ethnic and obviously – at least to those of us with refined Catholic radar – a Catholic.

When it came to ethnics, if you set aside for a moment that all of the Mouseketeers were Caucasian, old Walt didn’t shy away from obvious ethnics. In addition to Annette, there were all those Irish boys:  Mouseketeer drummer and dreamboat Cubby O’Brien;  Kevin “Moochy” Corcoran – who looked just like one of the McCullough brothers from around the corner; and über dreamboat Tim Considine, who usually got to be Annette’s boyfriend.

Annette was also the first celebrity I ever saw in person.

When I was seven or eight, the Mouseketeers went on tour, and a subset of the crew came to Worcester to make an appearance at the Stop & Shop in Webster Square.

This was right in our neighborhood, and I felt completely honored that the Mouseketeers – who, of course, could have appeared anywhere – chose our little neck of the woods.

Although the Stop & Shop was less than a 10 minute walk from Our Lady of the Angels Grammar School, it was not the direction we walked home in. So my friend Bernadette’s Aunt Anna picked us up at OLA after school, and drove us down in her little black Rambler.  We got there early, and I was beside myself: Bernadette and I were right at the front of the rope line. We were pretty confident that we were in such prime position that we would likely be the recipients of handshakes, smiles, and maybe even autographed b&w photos. Mouseketeer groupie heaven!

Alas, seeing Annette was not just my first experience with celebrity gawking. It was also my first experience with the madness of crowds, and the teenage boy lust factor.

Because although Bernadette and I got there first, we were soon displaced, pushed back by a wild bunch of twelve and thirteen year old boys – jostling, hollering, near-rabid - hell bent on getting close to (as I figured out a few years later) Annette.

Crestfallen – and asking each other why those big boys were so mean, and why they wanted to see Annette to begin with, since they were clearly too old to be watching the Mickey Mouse Club – we found Aunt Anna, and stood there at the outer reaches of the now cold, now gray, now dreary Stop & Shop parking lot, hoping that we’d at least get a glimpse of the Mouseketeers when their bus arrived.

Well, lucky us!

The bus pulled in just where we were standing, and there Bernadette and I were, a few feet from Jimmie Dodd, MC of the show and one of the two adult Mouseketeers – the other was Roy the cartoonist. Not that we liked Jimmie Dodd. Who actually liked him? Even as kids we found him creepy and phoney. That grin? A leer!

Nonetheless, the thrill of seeing someone as famous as Jimmie Dodd!

A couple of other Mouseketeers followed Jimmie off the bus.

I don’t remember who they were. Darlene Gillespie? Tommy Kirk? Cheryl Holdridge?

I would have remembered if Cubby O’Brien or Tim Considine (my true heartthrob) had been there.

And then, ecce Annette Funicello.

But, but, but…

She didn’t look like our Annette.

She didn’t have her ears on. Or her prim Mouseketeer skirt. Or modest Mouseketeer tee-shirt.

She looked like a movie star. She looked like Liz Taylor. She looked like a grownup!

Sure, Annette was older than we were. We knew that. If Bernadette and I were seven or eight, Annette would have been fourteen or fifteen.

But we didn’t expect the grownup hairdo. We didn’t expect the bright red lipstick. We didn’t expect the full-length, leopard-skin coat.

Apparently, the mob of early-adolescent boys had figured out what to expect. As they used to say, va-va-va-voom.

Anyway, we didn’t get autographs, but we did get to be no more than three or four feet away from Annette.

Annette, as is well known, went on to make Beach Blanket movies. But as my sister Kathleen has pointed out in her wonderful Annette commemorative post over on My Rolled Trousers:

…she and Frankie and the gang were way over on the other side of the Great Cultural Divide of 1967. Summer of Love didn't include any beach blanket bingo as far as I could tell. (Full post is here: Not So Merry Mouseketeers.)

Nope. When Annette was in her early twenties making movies with Frankie Avalon, I was in my teens, snobbily preferring Bob Dylan to the Beatles, and going to Worcester’s Fine Arts Theater to see Bunny Lake Is Missing, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, and other “deep” black and white movies. (Black and white was how you knew they were really deep.)

But if I never went to an Annette-Frankie movie, I never lost my affection for Annette the Mouseketeer. Not the Ava Gardner knock-off in the leopard skin quote, but the nice girl. The sweet girl – remember the Disney serial when Annette came to town to stay with Aunt Lila and Uncle Archie, got dissed by the bitchy Roberta Shore, but she ended up with – tada – drop dead gorgeous Tim Considine. The little Italian girl from Utica, NY, who showed to all the world that an ethnic Catholic could be a Mouseketeer.

By all accounts she was  - in real life – a genuinely nice, sweet, and decent person who died too young. (And, yes, 70 is too young.)

Glad she got to have Tim Considine as her Disney beau.

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Cute couple or what?


As for the title of this post, the theme song from the serial Annette used the refrain “Annette, Annette, Annette”.

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