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Q&A WITH ANNETTE FUNICELLO : There's That 'Annette Sound'

September 27, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

People who claim there's no creativity in music packaging anymore might want to look at the new boxed set collecting some of the late '50s and early '60s recordings of pop icon Annette Funicello. One side of the booklet inside the box is cut in the shape of an hourglass figure, a.k.a. the one Funicello modestly showed off in a celebrated series of silly beach movies in her post-Mousketeer, pre-Skippy days.

Funicello, a still-youthful 50, claims that she never had "sex appeal." A lot of the ex-boys of the period--like the kids in the movie "Stand by Me" who discuss her famous figure--would dispute that. In any case, she may have been the last truly innocent teen idol, or at least the last to consistently project the same wholesome appeal off-screen as well as on.

And that ingenuousness is well in place in the two CDs that make up Disney Records' "Annette: A Musical Reunion With America's Girl Next Door," which collects such hard-to-find nifty little rock 'n' roll hit sides as "Tall Paul," "Pineapple Princess," "Italiannette" and "The Rock-a-Cha."

Funicello's go-go days have given way to the need for a walker because of multiple sclerosis, which she made public in July , 1992. She says she has bad days and good days. It was one of the latter, fortunately, when she sat down to reminisce--and talk about her recent "growing up"--in her memorabilia-filled living room the day before being presented with a star on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame.

\f7 Question: You recorded one song with the Beach Boys, "The Monkey's Uncle," which is on this collection. And you had at least one thing in common with them. . . .

Answer: The beach.

Q: Actually, I was thinking of the irony that neither you nor Brian Wilson, at least, really had a natural affinity for the beach.

A: No, I did not. You know why? I have naturally curly hair, and so the minute I go in the water, that's the worst place for me. So for all the beach pictures, I wore a wig, and they used to spray it. There I was on the surfboard, every hair in place. And that just followed me throughout all the pictures. Even now, people will say, "How come your hair never moved?"

Did you see our last picture, "Back to the Beach"? Well, you remember where Frankie (Avalon) is combing his hair on the surfboard? That's a running gag.

Q: Your movie career is probably better remembered in the '90s than your music, because the films still show up but the records have been out of print. Did you ever imagine you'd see the day they'd release a CD boxed set of your old songs?

A: Never. This whole thing stems back to when I auditioned for Mr. Disney, when he said "I like your dancing very much, now can you sing a song?" And I said "Oh, I'm sorry, I don't sing." And that's how I've always thought of myself over the years. But I was under exclusive contract, and you don't ask questions. You just do what they've asked of you. . . . I was trained in dancing, but never in singing. So that's kind of the running gag--Annette doesn't sing, but she's got a boxed set out and she's also recorded 35 albums.

Q: Do you still not think of yourself as having developed into a singer? Didn't you adjust to it?

A: No. It's something I never adjusted to. I wasn't trained, and I probably should have taken singing lessons. But Mr. Disney said he liked the sound, that it was natural, and he felt probably that that was part of the appeal, because people thought they could sing every bit as well as I did. And I was like a kid next door. I was never better than anybody else.

Q: Your records could be seen as sort of paving the way for a lot of the girl-group records that flourished in the early and mid-'60s.

A: I don't know if I paved the way or not, but I certainly had my own sound. There was that "Annette sound," which was the double voice and lots of echo chambers. And then I noticed that female singers, especially, were utilizing my sound. So I know that something was right.

Q: In "Stand by Me," there's that prototypical scene where the preteen boys are talking about being in lust with you. Did it ever go to your head, being renowned then and now as the preeminent crush of the baby boom generation?

A: No, not at all. To this day, ladies will come up to me and say "Here, will you sign this for my husband? He's madly in love with you." And I've said, "Aren't you jealous?" They say "No, you were always my favorite too." So I don't pose a threat to anyone.

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