By Jim Bailey
For The Herald Bulletin
I’ve lost my first love.
As high schoolers many of us rushed home from school to watch the original Mickey Mouse Club. For most of us boys, the attraction was a cute young brunette named Annette. Her popularity would outlast the show itself.
Annette Funicello died April 8 from complications of the multiple sclerosis she had battled for two decades. She was 70.
The Mouseketeers captured the imagination of their audience: Cubby, Karen, Tommy, Sharon, Lonnie, Darlene, Don, Doreen, Cheryl and Annette. In the original show’s three years there were 39 total.
But though much of their routines were repetitive, we watched for an extra glimpse of Annette, who matured in three years from a perky kid to a curvaceous teenager. As little Cubby O’Brien and Karen Pendleton demurely voiced “Now it’s time to say goodbye to all our company,” we hoped it was Annette’s turn on camera with “M-I-C…” We endured Jimmy Dodd’s “See you real soon!” to get her “K-E-Y…”
The Mouseketeers all had varying degrees of talent, and many went on to show business careers. Sharon Baird did work for Disney. Bobby Burgess appeared on “The Lawrence Welk Show” and had his own dance studio. Lonnie Burr was an actor and writer. Tommy Cole moved into makeup artistry. Cheryl Holdridge, who died in 2009, appeared on “Leave It to Beaver” and other shows. Cubby O’Brien, a drummer, appeared on the Lawrence Welk and Carol Burnett shows and toured with Spike Jones and Ann-Margret. Karen Pendleton left performing and later was disabled in a car wreck. Doreen Tracey toured in Vietnam and appeared in one of the Power Rangers shows. Don Agrati, who took the stage name Don Grady, played in “My Three Sons.” He died last year.
Darlene Gillespie, with a great singing voice, was the most promising Mouseketeer. But reported rivalries led to her exit from show business, and later she got in trouble with the law.
But it was Annette, with her clean-cut image, who blossomed. She was the only Mouseketeer Walt Disney kept under contract when the show ended, and she appeared in numerous movies and TV performances from the “Spin and Marty” series to “The Shaggy Dog,” “Johnny Tremain” and “The Monkey’s Uncle.” She also had several hit records: “How Will I Know My Love,” “Tall Paul” and “Pineapple Princess.”
Then came the beach party movies with Frankie Avalon: “Beach Blanket Bingo,” Muscle Beach Party” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.” But Disney insisted she appear in more modest beachwear — even her two-piece bathing attire scarcely revealing her navel.
When Annette eventually got married I shifted my affections from afar, this time to Ann-Margret. Then in 1992 came her revelation of MS, and her public appearances came to a halt.
But the memories of thousands of fans from the Mickey Mouse Club of the 1950s continue.
Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.