Today, the Magic Kingdom – and the nostalgic boomers who yearned to make her either their girlfriend or their best friend – are mourning the death of Annette Funicello, the teen idol whose sunny, perky screen presence defined the ’50s and ’60s. The boys in Stand By Me lusted after her; Grease’s Rizzo mocked her (“would you pull that crap with Annette?”); Paul Anka, whom she dated, wrote “Puppy Love” for her in 1960, thus setting the boyfriend bar impossibly high.
Funicello succumbed to complications of multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease from which she’d suffered since 1987. Her MS effectively removed her from the public eye; after appearing in an episode of Biography in 1996, Funicello stayed offscreen until last year, when a documentary about her aired on Canadian TV.
Given how long it’s been since Funicello was well enough to act, it might be tough to remember why she was beloved enough in her heyday to receive more than 6,000 fan letters a week. But, thanks to YouTube, it’s easy to look back at the highlights of Funicello’s career – starting with the song that introduced the tweenage future star to audiences across America.
The Mickey Mouse Club, 1955
Roll call! In this early Mickey Mouse clip, the Mouseketeers formally introduce themselves to their soon-to-be adoring public. Warning: The song’s a definite Mouseke-earworm.
By 1956, Funicello was popular enough to inspire her very own song, written and sung by Mickey Mouse Club emcee Jimmie Dodd. Dig Annette’s ballet dancing, and the tune’s ultra-’50s lyrics (“Mais oui, she’s so magnifique/And her father’s pride and mother’s joy/There will come a day/They’ll give Annette away/To the world’s luckiest boy”):
“Pineapple Princess,” 1960
Before she made her first iconic “Beach Party” movie with Frankie Avalon, Funicello had some fun in the sun with this tune by the Sherman brothers (the same team that wrote much of Disney’s midcentury music, including the scores to Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book). The song appears on an album called, no joke, Hawaiiannette; Funicello would later name it her favorite single.
“Because You’re You,” 1964
Hello, Frankie Avalon! This sweet duet from Bikini Beach easily explains why these two were drafted to star in a whopping six “Beach Party” movies – they were just so gosh-darned cute together!
“Beach Blanket Bingo,” 1965
Will the title song from Annette and Frankie’s last real Beach Party flick – he appeared in just six minutes of the next film in the series, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini – actually teach you how to play Beach Blanket Bingo? Probably not – but it will make you yearn for the days when simply wearing a two-piece bathing suit was somewhat transgressive. (Walt Disney had personally requested that Annette not expose her navel in Beach Party; Annette, always the obedient pseud0-daughter, happily agreed.)
NEXT: Annette sings with the Beach Boys, makes Christmas Cards with Pee-wee, and explains “the Annette Sound”