Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records

Annette Funicello: The One You Can't Forget

No one was more surprised to become a household name than Annette Funicello. Her middle-class family had moved from Utica, New York, to California, where the shy young girl was enrolled in a local dance school. Walt Disney was in the audience during one of her recitals, and Annette became the last Mouseketeer selected. She had an inexplicable something that appealed to the home audience. Huge piles of fan mail propelled Funicello from the back row to front and center.

Annette was the first nonfictiitious entity that the Disney Studios extensively marketed and merchandised. There were paper dolls, mystery novels, and other Funicello items, but her records had the most important impact on the company fortune. Awith Jimmy Johnson's business acumen, and Tutti Camarata's musical vision, Funicello recorded a parade of best-selling Disneyland and Buena vista records, including some LPs that played off her first name. 'We started a series of albums. The first was Hawaiiannette and the second one was Italiannette, and then we came out with Dance Annette,' she recalled in an interview. 'And somebody said, why don't you do a BassAnnette or a KitchAnnette? You know, we got kinda razy with the whole thing! But it was fun and they worked. Some good songs came out of those albums, too.'

In addition to vinyl, she starred in precursors to today's music videos. Coin-operated devices installed in music stores and soda shops played short films with hit songs. One film, 'Rock and Roll Waltz,' featured an appearance by Funicello's parents, Joe and Virginia.

Funicello never had any illusions about her capabilities as a singer. She commented 'After each song kind of made the charts, made some noise, I though, How much longer can this go on? I don't sing!' This modest, unassuming attitude furthered her appeal. After her big-screen debut in The Shaggy Dog, she did three more Disney features before moving on to another iconic pop-culture entity, the beach party genre for American International Pictures. Never abandoning her Disney roots, she sought Walt's approval on scripts and even her onscreen swimwear. While most were encouraged to refer to the studio chief as Walt, she always called him Mr. Disney.

'Annette was wonderful' recalled Tutti Camarata, 'But she was very nervous when we started making her records. You can really hear her voice develop from album to album as she gained confidence. By the time her last Disney-produced album, Something Borrowed, Something Blue was released in 1964, Funicello was trilling with a vibrato.

Funicello semiretired from show business in the late 1960s to devote her time to children and family. She made occasional appearances on TV sows, including The Mouse Factory (1972) and The New Mickey Mouse Club (1977). She developed a line of collectible teddy bears and even a cologne. But by the time she reunited with costar Frankie Avalon in Back to the Beach (1987) she was beginning to experience the first signs of what turned out to be multiple sclerosis. Despite her illness, Funicello has continued to make appearances, written an autobiography, and fought for a cure for the disease. In 1993 she established the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation. Her valiant efforts continue.

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