The Era Of Annette
Mouseketeers used to troll about talk shows during the 70's when Disney revived the old series for a last (?) round of syndication. There was assumption that we were nostalgic for mousey doings from twenty years before, thus renewal of roll calls and effort at recognition of mice obscured by passage of time. One such reunion was on Tom Snyder's NBC owl hour, called Tomorrow. He was too old to have drunk the potion we'd had (b. 1936), and so went for cocked-brow irony which was part and parcel of late-nighting while Standards/Practice watchdogs slept. Being stuck with lower-tier Mouseketeers got Tom restless, so he live-called the princess of these dwarfs, Annette Funicello, knowing it was her we'd all know and most fondly remember. A generation's dream date answered, the thing pre-arranged I assume (but maybe not), and took questions from Snyder she'd been asked over countless looks-back. The ringer not expected came when TS made leering reference to fill of Annette's Mouska-shirt of yore, increasingly so through a run of the show, mention of which got dead air from his unseen guest. The other mice cringed --- they knew Snyder had stepped in it --- but he went blithely on. Obviously, Tom didn't know Annette like they did.
I didn't grow up with the "crush" on AF that loyalists lately speak of. Too young for one thing. My yearn was for age-appropriate Karen Pendleton, though what rankled was Cubby O' Brien's daily access to her and a 3000 mile distance that precluded my beating his time. Even if I could make the trip out, it would be too late to interpose myself between them, being age five making the hill higher to climb. Annette was strictly background and occasional lead in boring serials I wished the Mickey Mouse Club would bounce in favor of more cartoons. And what did youngest of us care about making pottery from clay? Disney tutelage beyond mere Donald Duck-ing was mixed blessing to proud illiterate that was me, Huck Hound and other Hanna-Barbera character's timely bow a respite from further such enrichment.
Graham Greene might profitably have turned his laser on Annette the way he had (to disastrous for him effect) on Shirley Temple back in the 30's, for here was but variation on truth Greene spoke to that earlier fan-base. Annette was a sex symbol, with potency the more for Disney efforts to mask it. It's said that boys premature-leaped into puberty just for weekday-watching of her. Sameness of obits by those four-eight years older than myself would seem to confirm it. Do any of these secretly wish Annette had stayed on after the Beach Party series to do scurvier AIP's? (imagine her in The Glory Stompers or Mary Jane), or better yet, as consort to James Bond or Matt Helm.
Being on Disney payroll through 1970 prevented that. As pop culture was increasingly debased, Annette rose like soap that floats to sell peanut butter in guise of homemaker and constant reminder of what Uncle Walt had done for her. Former Mouseketeer Paul Petersen approached Annette to help "trim the ears off" Disney for a 1977 memoir, Walt, Mickey, and Me, Petersen the chronicler as to hard luck of those stood in her shadow over years with the Mouse Club. Annette got tentative upon realizing where Paul was headed, for how could she acknowledge star status the rest of them never achieved? An awkward, but probing, and ultimately enlightening, interview ... and welcome tonic after years (ones before and to follow) where Annette dutifully toed the company line.
Fact is, Annette tried to break the Disney contract back in 1959, arguing that "the pact was inequitable and that she was without an agent or legal counsel when she signed it." The news story, dated 12/18/59 from The Los Angeles Times (and unearthed by Paul Petersen) said Annette began with $100 a week at Disney, and was, as of court filing date, receiving $325. Just think of profits Disney was accruing by 1959, the year they got my first-ever dime to the
Premiering at the Hall for this occasion was Pollyanna, its star an attraction Disney pushed harder --- Hayley Mills. Annette may have been a biggest noise on weekday TV, but stardom for her wouldn't translate to big screens where Mills and higher favored ingénue Janet Munro got plum feature parts. Was Annette blamed for the disappointment that was 1961's Babes In Toyland? I'd guess The Horsemasters and Escapade In Florence were intended for theatres, there were Euro bookings, though both ended up on
Annette kept dignity by not upending her image, a temptation that must have been hard to resist what with cash invites to demolish so much sweetness and light. A 1995 memoir, published by Disney, was called A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes, the title itself company-owned. "Not one truly unkind word" could be found in the book, said one critic, so rose-colored nostalgists were pleased (21 out of 24 Amazon reviews are Five Star). The MS announcement in 1992 took Annette largely out of public life, other than limited appearances in connection with the book and to fund-raise on behalf of MS awareness. Tributes showed respect for her brave fight and lifelong fans were grateful for Annette having stayed on message about a Disney past that she and they knew was idealized, but held precious still by a generation that wanted their memories, and Annette, to remain forever pristine.