Annette Joanne Funicello achieved teenage popularity starting in October 1955 after she debuted as a Mouseketeer. Born on October 22, 1942 in Utica, New York, the family had moved to California when she was still young.
Walt Disney himself saw her performing the lead role in “Swan Lake” at her ballet school’s year-end recital in Burbank and decided to have her audition along with two hundred other children. Annette became the last Mouseketeer of the twenty-four that was picked. By the run-through in 1958 of The Mickey Mouse Club (1955) in which she appeared in her own multi-segmented series entitled “Annette”, she had become the most popular Mousketeer of them all and the only one kept under contract by Walt Disney after he canceled the show.
Her popularity was such that by the late 1950s, she was simply known as “Annette” — America’s sweetheart and the first “crush” for many a teenage baby boomer. Whenever anyone spoke of Annette, no last name was ever needed as everyone knew who you were talking about.
During the early 1960s, American International Films wanted to use her in a fun-on-the-beach movie. They presented the idea to “Mr. Disney”, as Annette always called him and with whom she was still under contract. To everyone’s surprise, he gave his consent, with the only condition being that she make sure her navel was completely covered by a one piece bathing suit. The first movie, aptly titled Beach Party (1963) starred Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone as the older generation who explore the younger set represented by Annette (as “Dee Dee”) and her love interest Frankie Avalon (as “Frankie”). The “teenage” couple (actually she was 20 and he 23) proved so popular in this that they were whisked into a number of sand-and-surf romps – Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) – that showcased the actors engaging in harmless fun while singing and dancing in the sand, and falling into silly slapstick.
Following a tragic March 2011 incident in which their Los Angeles house burnt to the ground and both Annette and husband Glen were hospitalized with smoke inhalation, the couple moved to Bakersfield, California. A little more than a year later, and over 25 years after she was diagnosed with this long and painful illness, Annette passed away on April 8, 2013 from complications at age 70. To the present, her foundation continues to raise money to help find cures for this and other debilitating disorders, including Lou Gehrig’s disease.