Annette Funicello: Wholesome teen star who made her name on The Mickey Mouse Club

 

Maybe there are better things to be remembered for than the lyric, "Tall Paul is my love, Tall Paul is my dream, Tall Paul is the captain of the high-school football team", but its positive promotion of American teenage values was precisely what Annette Funicello's career was all about. She was the leading Mouseketeer in The Mickey Mouse Club; made wholesome pop records; starred in children's films; and then appeared in several beach party movies – though not at first in a bikini, as Walt Disney told her that that would be unseemly.

Annette Funicello was born into an Italian family living in upstate New York in 1942. She was singing almost as soon as she could speak, and in 1945 even knew "Accentuate the Positive", which became her lifelong motif.

The family moved to California in 1946 and lived in a trailer park while her father established himself working for a garage. The family then had homes in Studio City and Encino. Funicello loved ballet dancing and Walt Disney saw her in a children's production of Swan Lake. He thought that she would be perfect as a Mouseketeer in his new TV series, The Mickey Mouse Club, which began in October 1955.

The show was an immediate hit and the youngsters loved Funicello, despite the fact that most of the time she was wearing Mickey Mouse ears. She was singled out for special treatment: fans could buy Annette merchandise and she had her own TV serial. She was earning $200 a week from Disney while keeping up with her school studies.

In 1958 Funicello was summoned to Disney's office. She expected to be dismissed as she was growing too tall, but Disney had other plans and offered her a film contract. She starred in The Shaggy Dog (1959) with Fred MacMurray, the studio's first live-action comedy, and then as Mary Contrary in the musical Babes in Toyland (1961) with the teenage idol Tommy Sands. She also appeared in the TV series Zorro and Make Room for Daddy.

Disney was developing his own record label, Disneyland, later Buena Vista, and he asked the Sherman brothers, Richard and Robert, who later wrote Mary Poppins, to write for Funicello. She achieved a gold record with their novelty "Tall Paul" (1959), arranged and produced by big band veteran Tutti Camarata. He double-tracked her voice to make it sound stronger.

Another success from 1959, "First Name Initial", emphasised the fact that she was known by her first name. When she told Disney that she wanted a second name and that Annette Turner sounded good, Disney told her to stay with Funicello as it was distinctive.

Her parents would not allow her to date until she was 16, at which age she was regularly featured in the teen magazines, alongside Frankie Avalon and Fabian. At the time, her real love was Paul Anka, who wrote her first album, Annette Sings Anka (1960). It included "Train of Love", which became a UK hit for Alma Cogan. While visiting Funicello and her parents, Anka had the idea for "Puppy Love", which he wrote about their relationship, or at least her view of it. When Funicello told him of her love, he said, "Which of your scripts does that come from?"

Annette made the albums Hawaiiannette, which included another hit, "Pineapple Princess", and Italiannette, which included "O Dio Mio". Out of keeping with her wholesome image, this single was banned by the BBC for its religious references.

In 1963, Beach Party with Frankie Avalon was a huge success and led to several more beach-party pictures, including Muscle Beach Party (1964) and, getting more daring, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965). Also in 1965 she sang with the Beach Boys in The Monkey's Uncle. Her other films included Fireball 500 (1966) with Avalon and Fabian, Thunder Alley with Fabian (1967) and the psychedelic extravaganza Head (1968), which featured the Monkees.

In 1965, when she married her agent Jack Gilardi, Linus said in a Peanuts cartoon, "How depressing. Annette Funicello has grown up." She concentrated on raising a family and only occasionally accepted work.

After a divorce in 1981, she married a horse breeder, Glen Holt, in 1986. The following year she and Frankie Avalon starred in Back to the Beach, in which they had a son who had become a punk. She felt ill while making the film and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She did not go public as she was physically unsteady – and felt it might be taken as drunkenness.

Funicello later established a charity to help research into the disease – and although she became increasingly incapacitated, she remained positive throughout and wrote her autobiography, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes, in 1994.

Annette Joanne Funicello, actress and singer: born Utica, New York 22 October 1942; married 1965 Jack Gilardi (divorced 1981, two sons, one daughter), 1986 Glen Holt; died Bakersfield, California 8 April 2013.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?