One Friday afternoon, I was wondering what to for the weekend. My usual favorite TV shows weren’t on due to the writers’ strike this summer. I didn’t feel like a movie and had already exhausted my fill of reading and sewing, and household chores.
So I turned to You Tube. I often turn to You Tube to satisfy curiosity, learn more about some of my favorite things, and to enjoy a little nostalgia. Generally, my ‘feed’ shows a variety of different topics. One of which, on this particular night, was a video of the original Mickey Mouse Club, a childhood favorite when I was about three.
I watched the presentation, time-traveling in my mind to my earliest days of TV viewing. My interest was peaked, so I searched for my favorite Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello. I knew she was big, page after page depicted stories, videos, interviews, songs, and movies.
I began watching everything I could find about her. There was so much content, but I settled on a serial she starred in with Tim Considine that aired on the Mickey Mouse Club in the early 50’s. It was called “Annette” and although a little hokey by today’s standards, it was also charming, innocent, and sweet. I found it to be enchanting.
I was surprised that I had zero recollection about what we might call a ‘mini series’ today, although I know I watched it. I watched the Mickey Mouse Club every day. I remember lying on my stomach in front of the television set as my mother scolded, “Don’t get so close!”
When I was five years old, I adored Annette. In fact, the picture above is of a much younger version of myself with my favorite stuffed toy that I named after her. I loved that little tiger. Perhaps that was the beginning of my cat fancy too, who knows? I carried her everywhere. Now that I think about it, I have no recollection of what ever happened to her, but I have never seen another toy like her. Believe me, I have looked.
I was not surprised at all the information about Annette on You Tube. She was the most popular Mouseketeer, hand-picked by Walt Disney who first saw her at a school dance recital. Annette was about 12 when she “got her ears.”
I learned so much about her during my viewing marathon. I realized that my adoration of her was very well-placed as she was an incredible human being who by all accounts was as sweet as the girl she portrayed in her beach movies with Frankie Avalon and in the myriad appearances she made on talk shows and interviews, and on the records she sang. She remains my idea of what a child’s role model should be.
Annette became ill in the late 1980’s. I was a busy young wife and mother at the time, so I was unaware of the struggles she went through after being diagnosed at age 50 with multiple sclerosis. I had no idea how brave and giving she was, or how much she suffered in her last years. She began the Annette Funicello Research fund for neurological diseases with the hope of finding the cause, treatment, and cure for MS. She made it the purpose of her life. While the disease made her unable to walk, eat, or speak in her last years, she never gave up the fight, nor did her devoted husband Glenn Holt.
Annette died April 8, 2013 at the age of 70. Holt died five years later.
It was an emotional weekend where I laughed; I cried. I admired this woman as a child, but not only was she a good role model for a young child, but as an adult, I found that she was even more inspiring. Life is hard for child stars, but Annette seemed to take it all in her stride.
I think about early television and how innocent it all was. But those were the times in which we lived. I’m so grateful to have experienced those years. I think when people talk about the good ole days, this is what they mean. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course. And I can only relate my own experience. Times were simpler, slower. There was a sense of purity and trust. I am glad that at an early age I learned to admire a person with good qualities and character, not just someone who was famous, beautiful, or rich, although Annette was all of those things.
My marathon was filled with emotion, but isn’t that what life is all about?