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Annette Funicello: From Mouseketeer to icon on screen

April 08, 2013|By Patrick Kevin Day
  • Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon during filming of 1963's "Beach Party."
Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon during filming of 1963's "Beach… (Associated Press )

Annette Funicello, who died Monday at age 70, will be forever remembered as the child performer from the "Mickey Mouse Club." And it was on this program, which aired in its original incarnation from 1955 to 1959, that the broadest range of the young star's talents were displayed.

She was first discovered by Walt Disney during a ballet performance for her school in Burbank, and later on "The Mickey Mouse Club" she was allowed to showcase those ballet skills.

She also acted in several of the show's serials and even got her own serial, "Annette," in which she played a country girl who moves in with her city-dwelling and sophisticated aunt and uncle.

In addition to her acting and dancing, Funicello became a recording star because of a song she performed on the show. "How Will I Know My Love," and the fan reaction to it, caused Disney to give her a recording contract.

She transitioned from her child acting days with Disney to (slightly) more grown-up work in a series of beach movies for American International Pictures in the early 1960s. In many of these she was paired with Frankie Avalon. Funicello continued to dance and sing through these films, which featured flimsy plots and lots of singing.

Though her acting career never grew much beyond the beach pictures (she and Avalon reunited for a parody of the beach movies, "Back to the Beach," in 1987), she continued to be a TV presence into the 1980s as the spokeswoman for Skippy peanut butter.

One of Funicello's final screen appearances came at the end of the TV movie adaptation of her memoir, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: The Annette Funicello Story" in 1995. Though actress Eva La Rue portrayed Funicello for most of the film, the real-life Funicello, by now wheelchair-bound from the effects of multiple sclerosis, appeared as herself in the film's closing moments.

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