Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Yes, Annette Funicello was all that.
Then again, it was a different time in America, when you could, in fact, be all that.
Her sweet, innocent face, deep-brown doe-eyes and soft voice captured something about pre-adolescence in the 50s and adolescence in the 60s that spoke to a generation of young people who watched her grow up as one of Walt Disney's Mouseketeers.
Actually, she was the last of the 24 original Mouseketeers chosen for “The Mickey Mouse Club,” the immensely popular children’s television show that began in 1955, when fewer than two-thirds of households had television sets.
Before long, she was getting more than 6,000 fan letters a week, and was known by just her first name in a manner that later defined celebrities like Cher, Madonna and Prince.
It was "good clean fun," said producer Walt Disney - who begged Annette to call him "Uncle Walt" but she insisted on "Mr. Disney" - with a little dash of spice.
Bikinis were worn - well, okay, a two piece bathing suit - but no exposed navels. And, certainly no 'thigh high' cuts to the leg. Not even any real cleavage - except around the toes.
It was a different time.
It was a time when "fairness" was still something that was a goal in life - from relationships to negotiation.
We had no idea that "fairness" was also part of the Disney fantasy. That, in fact, life wasn't fair.
I sent her a letter once. Really. She had that kind of personality with whom a young girl like me felt an easy rapport. As I recall, I asked her advice concerning one of my younger sisters who, quite simply, hated me.
No, really. Far as I know, she still does.
She stole my clothing and jewelry - not to wear for herself but to destroy it just so I wouldn't have it. She would order things in my name out of catalogs - like books or purses or trinkets - and giggled wickedly as I argued with my mother that I didn't - honest to God! - order that item and pleaded with her to help me to return it.
Finally, my mother caught on but for a couple of months, it was pretty awful. I was the oldest and had no one to whom to turn for advice. Annette was as close to an older sister as I was going to get.
So, I wrote to her and asked her advice.
I wish I had kept my letter to her and hers to me. I don't remember the exact content of either letter. What I do remember is my letter being distraught and desperate and, no doubt, dramatic. I remember her letter being kind and gentle and filled with practical advice and encouragement.
And, I remember it was hand-written. Honest!
What I remember most is that Annette advised that I not be "mean back" to my sister. She said something like, "You are older than her and it wouldn't be fair. She'll eventually grow up and be as mature as you. You just keep your head high and set a good example for her."
Well, at the time. She called me to all the ideals embodied in being a Mouseketeer: Fair. Mature. Holding your head high. Setting a good example for others.
Annette has suffered for the past 25 years with multiple sclerosis, a cruel, debilitating disease that robbed her of simple dignities like the ability to feed or dress herself, or talk.
All that sweetness and innocence and talent.
It just wasn't fair.
Then again, as we later learned, life isn't fair.
"Fair" was only life on television for 30 or 60 minutes at a time on programs like "The Mickey Mouse Club" - or for a little more time in movies like "Beach Blanket Bingo".
Where fairness was part of the fantasy.
And, it was a different time in America.
I sure do miss Annette and all she represented.
I think I have - and will - for a very long time.