Skip to main content

Annette Funicello was my dream crush

By Joseph Leydon, Special to CNN
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Tue April 9, 2013
<a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/08/showbiz/annette-funicello-obit/index.html'>Annette Funicello</a>, here in the mid-1950s, became famous as one of the original Mouseketeers on "The Mickey Mouse Club." Funicello, 70, died Monday, April 8, at a California hospital of complications from multiple sclerosis, the Walt Disney Co. said. Annette Funicello, here in the mid-1950s, became famous as one of the original Mouseketeers on "The Mickey Mouse Club." Funicello, 70, died Monday, April 8, at a California hospital of complications from multiple sclerosis, the Walt Disney Co. said.
HIDE CAPTION
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
Remembering Annette Funicello
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joe Leydon: Annette Funicello, who died Monday, was the first crush of millions of boys
  • They pretty much grew up with her, through Mouseketeers and "Beach Blanket" flicks, he says
  • He says boys had to feign disinterest in "Mickey Mouse Club" with buddies
  • Funicello embodied an all-American ideal of wholesome, perky, spunky mid-'60s sexuality

Editor's note: Joe Leydon is a critic and correspondent for Variety and Variety.com, a blogger for MovingPictureBlog.com, a contributing editor for CultureMap Houston on the Web and Cowboys & Indians magazine. He is an instructor and lecturer at University of Houston and Houston Community College. He is the author of "Joe Leydon's Guide to Essential Movies You Must See" and is working on a revised and expanded edition of the book.

(CNN) -- OK, I admit it: Annette Funicello was my first dream crush.

Mind you, I didn't fall in love right away. Because, after all, when "The Mickey Mouse Club" premiered in 1955, I was barely out of diapers. (And as Woody Allen reminded us in "Annie Hall," "Even Freud speaks of a latency period!") But when the five-day-a-week series went into syndicated reruns in the early '60s, I was a goner the first time I tuned in.

Like millions of other guys my age at the time, I fell in love with that vivacious young beauty with the bright, beaming smile. And, as the show continued, the conspicuously blossoming, ahem, womanliness.

Joe Leydon
Joe Leydon

Of course, there were other attractive ladies on the airwaves. There was Mary Tyler Moore flitting about in Capri pants throughout various episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." And while some of us couldn't understand quite why Gomez (John Astin) was so attentive to Morticia (Carolyn Jones) on "The Addams Family" -- we couldn't help paying attention to her, too.

But those and other prime-time persons of interest were women. (Like -- yikes! -- our moms.) Annette Funicello was different. She was our age, or close enough. And we couldn't get enough of her.

Unfortunately, there never was enough.

British novelist and critic L.P. Hartley was right: The past really is a foreign country -- and, man, we did things very differently there.

In the early to mid-1960s, an era before cable, videocassettes, DVDs and the Internet, if you wanted to follow a star, well, you had just so many opportunities for star sightings.

You missed "The Mickey Mouse Club" -- and Annette -- on Friday? Sorry, bud: You had to wait until Monday for another glimpse. And even later, when Annette branched out into movies -- you actually had to leave home and go to a movie theater to see her.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



And you did. If you are a guy of a certain age, you kinda grew up with Annette Funicello. You started paying attention to her on "The Mickey Mouse Club" at roughly the same time you started paying attention to girls your own age. And when she starred in "Beach Party" -- which begat "Muscle Beach Party," then "Bikini Beach" and "Pajama Party" and "Beach Blanket Bingo" and on and on -- the time was just right for you to respond to a silly popcorn comedy filled with bubblegum pop tunes and bikini-clad cuties every bit as avidly as moviegoers of a later generation might respond to movies about hunky werewolves and sparkly vampires.

Of course, if you were a guy of a certain age at a certain time -- hey, you had to hide your love away. If your buddies wanted to know why you needed to cut short a baseball game or wanted to change the channel from "The Three Stooges" to watch "The Mickey Mouse Club," you couldn't very well tell them the truth. You had to say: "Oh, I'm following that 'Hardy Boys' serial." Or, "Man, haven't you been keeping up with 'Spin & Marty' ?"

Remembering Annette Funicello
Legendary Mouseketeer Funicello dies
Paul Anka reveals source of 'Puppy Love'

You never had to make a similar excuse to any girl you might be dating. And the beauty part was: Girls were never jealous of Annette. Why? Because most of them would admit that they wanted to be Annette. They had 45s of all her hit singles -- "Pineapple Princess," "Tall Paul," etc. -- and they really appreciated that you never complained when they played them over and over again.

Annette Funicello represented an all-American ideal of perky, spunky, mid-'60s sexuality -- nonthreatening, effervescent, even wholesome. (She may be the only actress in the history of showbiz to look demurely G-rated even while wearing a bikini. Compared to her, even Sally Field in "Gidget" looked hot to trot.) And while I normally detest the cliche of referring to this or that fallen star as emblematic of "a more innocent age," Annette serves as a reminder that, sometimes, "cliche" can be shorthand for "undeniable truth."

Annette's career fell into decline, alas, as relatively innocent trifles such as "Beach Blanket Bingo" were edged out of theaters by the likes of "The Graduate" and "Easy Rider," as the much-sought "youth audience" started demanding less homogenized and more realistic depictions of teen and twenty-something life in feature films. And as kid-skewing shows such as "The Mickey Mouse Club" were supplanted in late-afternoon TV schedules by syndicated chat-shows featuring Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin.

To her credit, Annette Funicello retained her dignity and remained relatively active long after her heyday passed. In fact, her post-'60s career path might serve as a game plan for contemporary teen phenoms, including a few who got their first break on Disney Channel series. And even as her visibility was limited to a TV guest spot here or a nostalgia-drenched spoof there (she and Frankie Avalon reteamed in 1987 for "Back to the Beach," a box-office underachiever), her fans continued to hold a soft place in their hearts for her.

We were saddened and sympathetic when we learned of her battle with multiple sclerosis. And Monday, as reports of her passing circulate, we mourn her passing.

And yes: Quite a few of us bid a fond farewell to a first sweetheart.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Joseph Leydon

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT