8 things you never knew about Annette Funicello

The Mouseketeer and beach-movie starlet also made rock 'n' roll history.

Image: The Everett Collection

When The Mickey Mouse Club premiered on television in 1955, the show had no shortage of Mouseketeers. The kids were split into three squads — the Red, White and Blue teams. They included Johnny Crawford, who would go on to a lead role in The Rifleman, and Don Grady, soon to become one of the three sons of My Three Sons.

But by the end of the first season, it was another instant star who was drowning in fan mail. Viewers were sending Annette Funicello more than 6,000 letters per month. The Southern California girl was an instant celebrity, especially among the young Boomer set.

Over the following 15 years, Funicello would surf that fame to a somewhat reluctant recording career and a wave of beach movies at the box office.

One of the first teen idols of the modern era, the Disney Legend remains an icon. Let's kick up some sand and learn more about the adored Annette. 

Love The Mickey Mouse Club? See a special Mickey-themed episode of Collector's Call with an Annette collectible on Sunday, June 7, at 9:30PM | 8:30C.

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1. She was the last Mouseketeer picked for The Mickey Mouse Club.

At the age of 12, Funicello was bounding about on stage in a Burbank production of Swan Lake when she was plucked for Disney stardom. She was the final Mouseketeer chosen for Disney's new ABC series in 1955.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. Walt Disney selected her himself.

It was the main man himself, Walt Disney, who happened to watch that staging of Swan Lake. Funicello was one of a few castmembers personally selected by the visionary creator, and Mr. Disney would take a protective role over her career for years.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. She was the first woman to have a Top 10 rock 'n' roll hit.

Annette's singing career was fan-initiated. She sang a number called "How Will I Know My Love" on television, and Disney received so much mail about the tune, the studio decided to press it as a record. In the late-'50s, she continued to record singles, many of them written by The Sherman Brothers, the songwriters behind movie classics like Mary Poppins — not to mention "It's a Small World (After All)." One of their biggest collaborations would be "Tall Paul," which rocketed to No. 7 in 1959. It was the first female-fronted rock 'n' roll single to crack the Top 10!

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Walt Disney gave her a role on 'Zorro' as a birthday present.

Walt Disney knew that Annette counted herself as a huge fan of Zorro, the Disney-produced Western series starring Guy Williams. When she turned 16, Annette found herself as a guest star on her favorite show. It was reportedly a birthday present from Mr. Disney. She played Anita Cabrillo in three episodes, and later appeared as Constancia de la Torre.

Image: Disney

5. She was supposed to star in a Disney 'Oz' movie.

Walt Disney yearned to produce a film based on The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, another studio snatched up the film rights for the 1939 masterpiece starring Judy Garland. That did not stop Disney. He procured the rights to other Oz books by L. Frank Baum in 1954. Annette was set to star as Princess Ozma (fellow Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie would be Dorothy). Preview segments for the production even appeared on television in a special 4th-anniversary Disneyland celebration on September 11, 1957. But the movie never came to fruition.

Image: Disney / D23

6. Paul Anka wrote "Puppy Love" about her.

Paul Anka crafted one of the biggest hits of 1960 with "Puppy Love." The teen pop anthem was a tribute to Annette by the lovesick Anka. Some reports call it a deep crush, others label their relationship a love affair. Whatever the case, they call it puppy love. A dozen years later, Donny Osmond would record a version of the song, which made it all the way to No. 3 on the charts — one spot lower than the original.

7. Walt Disney did not want her to show her midriff.

Ever controlling of her Mouseketeer image, even after The Mickey Mouse Club ended, Walt Disney requested that Annette not show her navel in her teen beach flicks for American International Pictures, beginning with Beach Party in 1963. However, as you can see from this promotional still for Beach Party, she did not take the note.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. There is a retro Fifties diner named for her in France.

How much is Annette Funicello associated with midcentury nostalia? Travel to Europe to see. Disneyland Paris features a retro diner named Annette's in her honor. 

Image: Disneyland Paris / Disney

SEE MORE: What ever happened to the original Mickey Mouse Club Mousketeers?

You know about Annette and Johnny… but what about the rest? READ MORE

 
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cdavid83 4 months ago
I loved me some Annette. I use to rush home from school just to see Annette on the Mickey Mouse Club. I have the DVD of Annette's Beach movies.
savoycheer 4 months ago
All the guys had a crush on Annette back then. Never knew " Puppy Love " was a tribute to Annette from Paul Anka until now. Wow, she had an effect on all the guys.
SERVY 5 months ago
Thank you very much for providing the best TV channels today on HDTV. Without your services HDTV would not be worth watching and we would be at a loss overall.
RedSamRackham 5 months ago
* Frankie Avalon and Harvey "Eric Von Zipper" Lembeck were ushers at Annette's wedding to her 1st husband! ☺
Taoyogi 5 months ago
Ah Annette- many a Baby Boomer's passport crush into puberty. Love you Annette, always will! Were these the days or what?
rgutierrez1968 5 months ago
Annette was always my favorite Mouseketeer, she was always known as the pretty one . I enjoyed her in the movie” The Shaggy Dog”. The “Beach” movies were big favorites!
MadMadMadWorld 5 months ago
She also had a #11 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960, with the song, "Pineapple Princess" that was her last. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1-4KfVji8c
moax429 MadMadMadWorld 5 months ago
I have the later pressing of that one with the blue/light blue Buena Vista label (in mint condition). That will eventually have a place in my fully-restored 1976 Seeburg Sunstar jukebox.
Wiseguy 5 months ago
As Garfield once said (thought) in the comic strip, "Shake it, Annette!"
JohnSonger 5 months ago
Annette was my first love. Fell for her the first time I watched Mickey Mouse Club.


jholton30062 5 months ago
I always include her among the "Disney Princesses." When I was 12, WGN in Chicago (re)ran episodes of MMC after school, and I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.
I remember WGN doing that. That station was probably how I was introduced to TMMC. I REALLY miss WGN's programming: Ray Raynor, Garfield Goose, Bozo's Circus. Looking back, {and it's been 54 years since it happened,} I still can't believe that I was one of the lucky ones that was able to see Bozo's Circus in person. For those that remember, those were hard tickets to come by. Perhaps not as hard in 1966 as it would eventually become. For the uninitiated, this show rivaled popular plays that would go to Chicago. They would fairly often outsell the play of the season. I remember {or so it seemed,} the stars would go on the local talk shows and practically beg for people to see the show, because a lot the people were plunking their hard earned $$ to see BC.
So sad that they're gone now: Ray Rayner, Bob Bell, Ned Locke, Frazier Thomas, Marshall Brodien, Don Sandburg, Roy Brown... I don't think they made a whole lot of money to entertain us kids...
dth1971 5 months ago
Not mentioned: Annette also did TV commercials for Skippy Peanut Butter in the late 1970's and early 1980's.
Diz 5 months ago
She also played an Italian exchange student on Make Room For Daddy.
marlyn60 5 months ago
I loved Annette she was definitely the girl next door. I grew up with her. I miss her RIP Annette
Mad55 5 months ago
As an addendum to Number 6, Paul Anna also wrote a song that Annette recorded called “It’s Really Love”, an instrumental version of which, years later, became the theme for The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson (“Johnny’s Theme”.)
https://youtu.be/TGY7VSoBUxA
AnnieM Mad55 5 months ago
I thought I knew my music trivia, but I'd never known that Paul Anka's 'Tonight Show' theme had started out as an actual song with lyrics! Thanks for sharing that! :-)
SalIanni Mad55 5 months ago
Paul Anka even wrote an entire album of songs for her that included "it's Only Love/Johnny's Theme". It was called "Annette Sings Anka" featuring Annette and Paul (then dating each other) on the cover. It was one of her best sellers.
Pacificsun 5 months ago
Not that the subject of Annette Funicello is worthy, this is an odd story for MeTV to be covering. Very odd. Because the Mouseketeers show was kind of unique. And I'm guessing Disney has the rights to syndication. So, just a trip down memory lane. Or what's the occasion.
Moody Pacificsun 5 months ago
I think it's just, as you say a trip down memory lane. It's a nice nostalgia piece for all the boomers here.
I don't own any, never did, but I'm curious to know if anyone owns/did own/knows/knew someone that owned any of Annette's teddy bears? Or if they knew she even made them? Apparently METV didn't or I think they would have mentioned it. Granted, it has nothing whatsoever to do w/Show Biz, but it does have to do with something she accomplished in her lifetime.
rycki1138 Pacificsun 5 months ago
The next episodes of MeTV's Collector's Call, this Sunday June 7th, is about a collector of Mickey Mouse Memorabilia. The Annette Funicello article and its timing probably ties in with that episode.
Pacificsun rycki1138 5 months ago
Very true. Thanks for the heads-up. And I think I have some housecleaning to do during that time. 😉
So you've probably seen by now (I forget where) but a person said MeTV's Collector's Call is supposed to be featuring Mickey Mouse memorabilia June 7th.
bsantaniello 5 months ago
There was a series called Annette starring Annette a Funicello. She played an orphan who went to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle (Sylvia Fields and Richard Deacon) who were brother and sister. Shelley Fabares was a classmate as well as other Mouseketeers. Let’s not forget her Skippy peanut butter commercials and the 1980’s movie Back to the beach with her friend and fellow actor Frankie Avalon!
I don't believe Annette was a separate series like you're thinking. I know [I think,] it aired in 1958 as a serial as part of the Mickey Mouse Club. I don't know if it was ever "spun-off" from TMMC into a separate series. For folk's viewing pleasure, episodes can be found on You Tube.
The Annette MMC series is also on DVD. I own the set. And yes it was a serialized show that was shown as part of the Mickey Mouse Club, like the Hardy Boys and Spin and Marty segments of MMC.
Yes it was part of the Mickey Mouse club show. It was a series like Spin and Marty. I should have been more clear. It is on dvd. I got it as a gift and it’s so fun to see how life was in the 50’s but like me you own it. I especially love the girls dresses. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 😊
You mixed me up w/rycki1138. I do not own the show, she/he does. Thanks for replying to my reply though!
Just watched the entire Annette. Really enjoyed it!
bsantaniello rycki1138 5 months ago
Just watched entire Annette. Really enjoyed it! 👍
critesld 5 months ago
Seriously? No mention of "funny jello"?
Aaron critesld 5 months ago
Everytime I hear her name. Lol.
Jeremy 5 months ago
Out of all the things you mentioned, there were only three I really didn't know. Despite all of that, I still love her and I kind of wish she was alive today.
obectionoverruled 5 months ago
Forget the Mouseketeer, I watched the MMC for Spin and Marty as well as The Hardy Boys!
wasn't my friend flicka part of the MMC serials? i can't remember, i loved the horses. and Fridays was my favorite day of the MMC because it was cowboy day......."Round Up" or something like that. my memory is failing me lol.
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