I grew up watching reruns of many Walt Disney television shows and loving the light-hearted movies he produced. I can close my eyes and still see in my mind’s eye all those original Mouseketeers lined up…shouting their name and smiling into the camera. One that always stood out then, and even now, was Annette Funicello. She had the darkest eyes and a huge smile. And, in her early teens, became one of America’s sweethearts. Today is Annette’s 70th birthday and I wish her a very happy day! After filming movies with Disney such as The Monkey’s Uncle and The Shaggy Dog, Annette began filming beach movies with Frankie Avalon (remember him…he sang Beauty School Dropout to a throng on roller-haired beauties in the hit Grease starring Olivia Newton John and John Travolta). Beach Blanket Bingo, Muscle Beach Party, Beach Party and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini….to name a few….were some of her hits in the 60′s. Remember that type movie? Girl meets guy on beach, girl and guy fall in love on the beach, maybe girl and guy surf…..sweet romances. I loved them as a little girl and still get a kick out of these happy movies.
Annette was paired with Frankie Avalon in most movies that I saw, and as a child I figured they’d always be a couple. Frankie, however, had married in 1960. He and his wife are the parents of eight children and have many grandchildren. Annette married in 1963. She married Jack Gilardi (at the age of 23) and they divorced in 1981. She and Gilardi had three children.
One note of sweet trivia as I relate their real love stories. Singer and songwriter Paul Anka wrote a song called Puppy Love (Donny Osmond also made a recording of the same song) while dating Annette in their early careers.
In 1986, Annette married her current husband, Glen Holt.
In 1987, 1989 and 1990 Annette and Frankie paired up to act in Back to the Beach and to stage a concert tour. Then, as suddenly as she’d reappeared on America’s stage…Annette retired.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1987, she struggled with the neurological disease. MS attacks the brain and spinal cord and can cause numbness, blurred vision, tingling…followed by degenerative neurological problems. Patients can lose the ability to talk, to walk, to swallow…
For a while, in the early 1990′s, I would see Annette on television shopping networks as she marketed a line of collectible teddy bears, the Annette Funicello Teddy Bears. Part of the proceeds from these sales went to the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases. She was brave and sweet, educating us on this disease that ravages neurological systems.
Today, as I have said, is her birthday. I hope all of you take time to visit The Annette Connection to check out her site as she continues to fight against this disease. Sales, from her webpage, of movies, books, etc. donate to that research fund still. There is also a link to an interview granted by her husband and caregiver, Glen Holt, that explains her current condition and her long fight. I must remind old fans (and new as well) that this is a heart-wrenching portrait of America’s sweetheart today.
Again, thank you so much Ms. Funicello, for making my childhood television viewing time a happy one. Annette, your movies and television shows often aired on Walt Disney’s television show while I was a little girl growing up and I looked forward to them all…and I still have fond memories of them.
Perhaps today I will search for some of your music, or one of the beach movies, and (if no one is watching) do a little beach-blanket dancing and singing. I know it will make me smile.
Here’s wishing you a wonderful birthday, Annette,