Disney's Girl Next Door: Exploring The Star Image of Annette Funicello

This is a thesis written in May of 2006 by Claire Folkins that I found on line. I will note a few of the most important points and may comment here and there.

First, I thought it was well written and would actually have made a very interesting actual book on Annette.

This part was written by her adviser:

This thesis explores the cultural significance of actress and former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and the public perception that she embodies the social values of morality and chastity.

Remember, this was in the late 1950's and the 1960's. Stars were judged a little more harshly back then than they are now. Also, both morality and chastity helped Annette's image as the Girl Next Door.

Compared to other stars, her acting is average and her singing flat.

Here I will disagree with her somewhat. I like Annette's singing. For one thing, you can understand what she is saying, unlike much of today's music. Also, the music reflected the times and perhaps today would be called fluffy, but it was nice, an element missing from much of today's world.

As far as her acting goes, Annette was actually not given a chance to really act in a serious movie. The material she was given was very light-weight and so her actual abilities as an actress were not tested.

...three components of Dyer’s star image theory—success, ordinariness, and consumption—ordinariness is the most prominent in Funicello’s star image. Funicello’s depiction of the character Annette McCleod from the “Annette” serial stands as textual evidence of the calculated effort of Disney to commodify the girl-next-door persona.

What is meant by 'ordinariness' is nothing negative; it simply means that this is a person you could meet in your own neighborhood who didn't massively stand out from the other kids. Annette had quite a bit of success. Consumption means that she was pictured as buying things (in reasonable amounts, generally) and a lot of memorabilia and other products were made centered around her in one way or another, thus helping Walt Disney make money off of her.

Now we move on to the part actually written by her.

I became convinced that like many other young stars an industry marketing machine had created Annette and the media hysteria that surrounded her in the mid-to-late 1950s.

There is no doubt that mass media helped her become famous. Television was still relatively new, of course, but there were also a lot of magazines that appealed to teenagers of the time and that helped spread information her. It was harder back then, of course, since there was no Twitter, no Internet, no instant social groups that could spread the word about someone. Her appearances on the Mickey Mouse Club were a start, and that moved on to her recording career and her appearance in some movies.

Critics often panned her acting as mechanical and stiff and her voice, which was “echoed” in the studio, got even worse reviews. Yet Annette was wildly popular.

One thing I would be interested here is knowing just what kind of people the 'critics' were. This would not be the first time, of course, that the critics would blast something or some one and that person or thing would still be immensely popular. Critics can be totally out of tune with the 'average' person.

One thing the author discusses are the theories about why Annette became so popular. One of them is that Annette was better built than the other girls on the show. She counters this, though, by pointing out that Annette's development physically happened after her fan mail had grown into significant numbers.

To many fans of the generation who grew up with Annette, she imparted the fantasy of a girl who was perfect, yet real enough to almost be either your friend or your girlfriend.

Annette was seen as a 'good' girl who was sweet, honest, spiritual and virginal. She was seen as someone who might be found in any regular neighborhood. A guy could date her but he'd know that she wasn't going to put out for him – unless there was a marriage involved.

Also, again consider the times – the 1950's. Nothing was going terribly wrong. There were juke boxes, drive-in movies, malt shops and relatively innocent music and dancing. You didn't have to consider whether global warming was going to kill you, or some terrorist activity might happen or some crazy shooter would mow down people at the mall, etc. You knew your neighbors and the entire neighborhood kept an eye on the kids. It was a totally different, innocent and more fun world back then.

Like a proper and wholesome young adult, Annette spoke often of her love for family, her obsession with Guy Williams of Zorro, and her faith in the Catholic religion.

Annette was like any girl; she could get a crush on a guy. She was devoted to her family and her religion. She was seen as about as good as you could find anywhere in a young girl. Plus she was beautiful. The author goes on to say that ...Annette is the personification of the Disney fantasy.

Then she goes into how Annette became a Mousketeer and what happened with the Mickey Mouse Club.

Another key to her success, the author says, .. has always been her fans’ perception that they can relate to Annette.

Annette, in other words, was not that massively difficult from her fans. She wasn't on a pedestal, she wasn't always in trouble, she was polite and looked like a fun person to be around.

Annette's spending is also examined:

Annette only partook in regular teen indulgences such as clothes, cosmetics, and a car.

Again, her 'normalness' is seen. What girl didn't love to buy clothes and cosmetics? Teenagers usually looked forward to getting a car. Again, Annette was sort of the 'every girl'. No wild parties, no drunken binges, no drug uses, nothing bad like that.

Her clothes were also quite normal in appearance. Capris pants, a bulky sweater, flats and a scarf. No exposing a lot of her skin, no wild fashion freak-outs, nothing like that. Again, she was like the girl next door.

The author is also quite complete in that she notes the kinds of things that Annette did not like.

...the color maroon, too much classical music, too tight shoes, washing dishes, impolite and loud people.

Even her dislikes were quite normal and easily found in the girl next door.

She did well at school, but she was not a perfect student gradewise. She didn't get suspended or expelled. Again, normality.

Her perfect meal?

...a T-bone steak, baked potato with lots of butter, garlic bread and maybe chocolate cake for dessert.

Other then vegetarians, who would like a meal like that? Normality again. The author then moves on to talk about the various things that Annette appeared in during the Mickey Mouse Club such as the Annette serial and Spin and Marty. Then she talks about the five-book mystery series that starred Annette.

After that she talks about Annette's musical career. Again, she points out Annette's flat voice. Annette had fifteen LP albums and numerous singles in a time period of around 1958 to 1960, which is quite short.

From that she moves on to the beach movies.

In her 1950’s roles and early 1960’s roles, the only hint of sex in Annette is her hard-to-cover-up curves.

She probably had the biggest breasts of anyone on the beach yet he entire figure was covered up, Annette almost always appearing in a one-piece swim suit if not something that covered up even more than that. She was definitely not going to have sex with any guy unless he married her first.

Throughout the movies Annette models the behavior and good sense that every parent would want for their daughter, while still looking fashionable, glamorous, and singing fun pop tunes.

Annette again is the 'good' girl who won't upset her parents. The guys could dream of doing things with her but they wouldn't get anywhere without marrying her. The songs she sang were generally upbeat, quite normal teenage songs of the time.

Then the writer goes on to examine other girls who have worked for Disney and how they compare to Annette. This includes Hilary Duff.

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