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Saturday, April 20, 2013


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 Liberty for The Shaggy Dog, a very peak of Annette's career-wise hotness. Merciful heavens, I think Jack Warner paid more than $325 to Troy Donahue. And did she work for it, the Mouse Club but opener bell on features, records, fashion spreads, mag layouts. Most fascinating among the latter are innumerable profiles in Walt Disney's Magazine, chock-full of Annette joined by others under contract (were they getting even $100 per week?). Covers promised Annette's "True Story" within, camera coverage of fictitious "dates" she had (oft-with Tommy Kirk), and glimpse inside her own photo album. There was scarce time for much education. Annette would "graduate" high school on stage at the Radio City Music Hall ("Mr. Disney made me appear there," she told Petersen).


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 ingĂ©nue 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 US television as two-parters on Disney's Sunday night series. In any case, Annette seemed at an impasse, from which Merlin Jones foolery emerged (a pair, neither noteworthy but for Annette singing with The Beach Boys under credits to the second), plus loan-out to American-International for its Beach Party series. Imagine Walt Disney and Sam Arkoff hammering out details of that deal. If Annette ever became a movie star, it was in these for AIP, not at Disney's. Mid-sixties trades are rife with her joining Sam and Jim Nicholson to push the Beach pics at exhibitor cons, with Vincent Price often as not pulling M.C. duty. What fun those events must have been! The Beach group was fine for what they were, but a teen base that enabled them would turn like snakes once it became more fashionable to mock the formula, which even AIP did when re-packaging its lot for dusk-to-dawn drive-in bookings circa 1973 (above at right).


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.

6 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson shares some thoughts about Annette:


Too young for the original run, I first saw the Mickey Mouse Club in syndicated revival, when Annette was already appearing as an adult on "Wonderful World of Color". The syndicated MMC combined old Mouseketeer songs and serials with new stuff like Professor Wonderful (a Mr. Wizard clone) and acts performing at Disneyland, further muddying the chronological waters.


I'm guessing Disney didn't have script control on the beach movies. In "Beach Party: she talks a good puritan game but is ready to make the moves on Bob Cummings (!). In "Ski Party," she has a cameo as a college professor. We see her teaching; later we see her cheerfully and publicly necking with the Big Man on Campus -- a throwaway gag, just to stress how ludicrously popular the BMOC is. A whole movie of Annette as a transgressing teacher -- now THAT would have been something for the crushing boys.


Walt Disney wasn't the best at managing careers, even if he gave actors career-defining parts. Michael Barrier makes a case that Walt blew contractee Fess Parker's chances for major stardom, although Parker himself -- who settled for "Daniel Boone" and off-camera business success after Disney -- recalled Walt with affection.


Interesting to note that Annette's memoir included a strong declaration of support for post-scandal PeeWee Herman, with whom she'd done a film and a TV special. Wonder if editors challenged that.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Didn't Uncle Walt prevent Fess from appearing in THE SEARCHERS?

2:29 PM  
Blogger Ralph Schiller said...

In 1972 at age 18, I visited Disneyland, California. On leaving the theme park, I passed through the Main Street, USA town square where one of the networks was shooting a television special.
Standing there looking gorgeous in dark slacks and blouse was a thirty-year old smiling
Annette Funicello. Parents were sending their children to kiss Annette while they snapped a photo with their old Kodak instamatics. Annette did better than they could have hoped for by happily hugging and kissing each child while beaming that million dollar smile for the cameras.

A few feet from her was
Arthur Godfrey (Lonesome Rhodes himself). He had a bush of flaming red hair while wearing white cargo pants, black polo shirt and dark sunglasses. Godfrey was reaming out some director and sticking a defiant finger down the young man's throat in a rage about something.

I couldn't get over that Annette was just like she was on camera while Arthur Godfrey was the exact opposite of that lovable, folksy, charmer with a ukelele. Don't forget Godfrey ruled the airwaves until the masked slipped when he fired (on the air) a young handsome singer on his show who was getting all the fan mail. Then he made sure to blackball the singer's career. Godfrey tarnished his own carefully crafted image and slipped from TV stardom.

4:20 PM  
Blogger moviepas said...

Remember Deanna Durbin. Sure do. Got all the films on official DVDs including the added on piece of one movie for England during the war, There'll Always Be An England.

3:15 AM  
Blogger Paul Duca said...

I read "Walt, Mickey and Me" way back when and found it fascinating. That was before Paul Peterson founded A Minor Consideration, to protect children in and out of show business from exploitation. Unfortunately, that comes with a traditional values mentality that thinks we all SHOULD be like THE DONNA REED SHOW, or FATHER KNOWS BEST, or LEAVE IT TO BEAVER--plastic families full of ordained role models.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Paul Duca said...

Check out what publication had a promotional tie-in relating to THE MONKEY'S UNCLE....


https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4587423125118&set=gm.10151402263483882&type=1&theater



Paul Duca

7:47 PM  

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