I grew up on Annette Funicello. Even though I was only four years old when The Mickey Mouse Club was cancelled, it continued to be rerun every weekday afternoon as an after school half hour program. My older brother and I rushed home from the bus stop so as not to miss a minute of the fun.
I’ve told this before, but my love of traveling can be traced back to a serial on the show that had Annette traveling to Hawaii on a ship. I was enchanted by her stateroom and the small onboard swimming pool and the shuffleboard. And I’ve wanted to travel ever since.
By the time we were watching The Mickey Mouse Club, Annette had grown up and was starring in the Beach Party movies. I saw them all, and never one time wondered why Annette was so young on TV but so grown up in the movies.
In the early 60s, Annette was the girl other girls wanted to be, and the girl boys wanted to date. She was, it now seems, the last of her particular type of role model: the old fashioned sweet and kind girl next door. By 1966 she was replaced in our hearts by Twiggy and Cher.
It’s easy to look at Annette with nostalgia, and it would be easy to dismiss her as just a symbol of all that seemed to be good about the 1950s, when in reality things for women simply were not all that rosy. But despite the expectations placed on her, Annette lived her life on her own terms. She may have promised Walt Disney that she would not show her bellybutton in those beach movies, but there is photographic evidence that she didn’t quite comply. What a rebel!
Photograph copyright Disney