In 1957 I was 5. I lived in a four-room house. We had water in the kitchen but no bathroom inside the house. The floors were a combination of bare wood and worn linoleum. There was a bare light bulb in each room — hanging from the ceiling. We had no closets and no carpet. Heat for the whole house was provided by a small space heater in our tiny living room. We had a second-hand black and white television set — and life was perfect.
It really was. As far as I knew at the time, it couldn’t have been any better. Plus I had a girlfriend — an older woman who was 15. Her name was Annette and I shared her affection with millions of other baby boomers. We all mourned our loss when word spread Monday that Annette Funicello, America’s Sweetheart, passed away at the age of 70.
Annette, of course, was a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club, that classic television show that was a perfect example of Walt Disney’s marketing genius. I tuned in every day for as long as the program ran and when it quit running I tuned in for the syndicated reruns. Truth be known, I have a collection of the old broadcasts on CD and every now and then, when I am home alone and safe from intruders, I still watch an occasional episode.
The cartoons were great — especially the introduction. “Who’s the leader of the club that’s made for you and me? M-I-C-K-E-Y — M-O-U-S-E!. The world’s most famous mouse was leading the band and the world’s most jealous duck — that would be Donald — was trying to steal his thunder.
Serials would be shown, of course. Spin and Marty were my favorites, but I liked the Hardy Boys, too — and Fang, the white dog. There would be the occasional nature piece, of which I wasn’t a particular fan — or maybe a segment about Disneyland in California. In my wildest dreams I never imagined actually riding Dumbo or visiting Adventureland — but I could see it in black-and-white on that little Zenith television.
Once in a while I had to put up with a silly song and dance routine that didn’t exactly enthrall me, but sometimes I got to see a lion tamer, too — so it evened out. But the number one attraction for me, for a lot of years, was the Mouseketeer roll call, when the gang of young teenagers — along with Jimmy and Roy, two old men who inexplicably hung out with all the youngsters — posed for the camera and stated their names.
Several of the Mouseketeers were particularly appealing, like Darlene and Doreen and little Karen — who always appeared with her counterpart, Cubby. But the one person I rushed home from school to see, once I started school, was the first love of my life — Annette.
She was so gorgeous with her dark hair and eyes and her smooth dark complexion — and that smile! That smile would melt a 5- or 6-year-old’s heart — or a 10- or 12-year-old’s.
Annette appeared in many of the skits and a number of the serials, of course, and those became my instant favorites. After the Mickey Mouse Club ended production, Annette was still under contract to Disney and still very much in the public eye. She appeared often on the Sunday Night Wonderful World of Color and in a number of Disney movies, all of which I saw — at least once — at the Strand Theater in Covington.
Annette will always be remembered for her beach movies, in which she starred with Frankie Avalon — and she was still beautiful and sweet and charming — as well as wholesome, even if she did finally uncover her belly button and wear a two-piece swimsuit in her last couple of beach movies.
I finally realized that I would never get to meet Annette Funicello, much less take her out. Plus there was that age thing — so I went on to other girlfriends and she got married and went on with her life. But I and a few million other baby boomers always kept a soft spot in our hearts for our first crush.
In 1992 Annette revealed that she was suffering from multiple sclerosis. She became very active in raising money to battle neuromuscular diseases. Eventually, as her maladies progressed, she withdrew from the public eye. Friends have said that she lost her ability to walk in 2004 and to even speak in 2009 — but that she never lost her gentleness or her class — an increasingly rare commodity among the Hollywood elite here in the 21st century.
“Now it’s time to say goodbye to all our family. M-I-C — see you real soon. K-E-Y. Why? Because we like you!”
We like you, Annette. Rest in peace and thanks for the memories.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.