October 22, 1942 – Actress, Singer, and Disney Legend Annette Funicello is Born
“[Annette] had this wonderful innocence about her. No matter what adulation she got, she was just a sweet, nice girl, very loving to the people around her.” – Composer Richard Sherman
On October 22, 1942, Annette Joanne Funicello was born in Utica, New York. When she was four, her family moved to Los Angeles, and her mother enrolled her in dance lessons at the age of five. When she was about twelve, she performed the lead in Swan Lake at a performance that Walt Disney attended as he scouted children for his new show, The Mickey Mouse Club. She was the only Mouseketeer hand-selected by Walt, and was arguably the most popular, receiving at least 6,000 fan letters a month.
“I loved when I got to do my ballet numbers,” Funicello recalled. “And I remember Jimmie Dodd had written a song called ‘Annette.’” Funicello would do a ballet routine to this song on the show. Along with being a Mouseketeer, Funicello also starred in several serials, including Adventure in Dairyland, Walt Disney Presents: Annette, and The New Adventures of Spin and Marty.
After singing a song in the Annette serial, she began a singing career, with her first single being “How Will I Know My Love.” “I was scared to death,” she said in an interview, “because I didn’t want to ever sing…after each song made the charts, I thought, ‘How much longer can this go on? I don’t sing!’” But her singing career took off, and she released 15 albums during her recording career, including her first top ten single “Tall Paul,” written by Richard and Robert Sherman. After The Mickey Mouse Club ended, Funicello remained with Walt Disney Studios, starring in other television shows, including Zorro (a gift from Walt Disney on her 16th birthday), The Horsemasters, and Elfego Baca. She also starred in several films, including The Monkey’s Uncle, The Shaggy Dog, and Babes in Toyland.
In the early 60s, Funicello was asked to star in a movie about surfing with teen idol Frankie Avalon. Walt Disney was given full script approval, and he asked her to maintain her image and not wear a bikini. “I respected him so much,” she said on the subject, “and I felt that he was right.” The first movie, Beach Party, turned her from Disney star into a teen idol, and she went on to star in several beach films with Avalon. In 1987, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, although she kept her illness hidden from her friends and family. In 1992, to combat rumors of alcoholism, she publicly announced her diagnosis; in the same year, she was inducted as a Disney Legend. In 1993, she opened the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation with her husband, Glen Holt.