Wednesday, 10 April 2013


It was as if Annette had died, at least in part, to provide spiritual relief from the media psychodrama and political point-scoring gush around Margaret Thatcher's passing. That was what Annette did for us, when we were kids, provided a sort of marker toward a different sort of life. Of course, I was about five when I was keen on the Mickey Mouse club—so keen I can recall begging Miss Molloy, our kindergarten teacher, not to keep me after school because it was Mickey Mouse night and my mother wouldn't let me watch the TV if I'd stayed after. It wasn't to watch Annette, and in retrospect I wonder if the Spin and Marty stories were really that intriguing. My memory tells me I liked Gunga and Rama on Andy's Gang more.

But Annette, even then, was a step or two ahead—the older sister (or her friend), the baby-sitter just discovering older boys, the only one of the Mouseketeer girls who actually looked like the girls we knew. She was a Funicello, just like the Bonessis, Montaltos, Volpes, or Aquilinos we grew up with. She came from Utica, not California, though I didn't find that out until I read it in an obituary.

Which was ironic, because it was Annette who became the ultimate beach-bunny in those Disney movies. Uncle Walt had spotted her dancing, and in retrospect we can see both Graham Greene's appraisal of Shirley Temple and a touch of the Humbert Humbert in his appreciation of her. She was remarkably adult in her appeal, even before she astounded us younger males by hitting puberty full-force while we were just becoming aware of the difference in the sexes. Again, I say this recalling that the MMC went off TV when I was seven, so I may be applying some retro-analysis to my emotions when I say forget Darlene and Cubby and all the other goodie-goodies with their names written across their white T-shirts. And don't get me started on the adults. Jimmie? He was the kind of guy our parents should've been warning us about.

The explosion of breasts beneath the 'Annette' was like someone throwing a great switch on the libidos of millions of American baby boom boys. It was probably also the signal that the Mickey Mouse club was about to exceed its sell-by date. How big was the impact? A full decade after their last show, at a Yale football game, the marching band did a tribute to Annette, and in honour of her most lovable attributes formed two circles around two upturned tubas, signifying, as the stadium announcer intoned, 'her big brown eyes'.

By that time, she was another generation's sexpot. Her modest bikinis, and the equally modest Frankie Avalon, were soppy compared to what was happening, and Walt Disney's world-view was getting overtaken by times—it would come back when Annette's generation and the ones that watched her started looking for those comfortable childhood fantasies again.

Annette gave up the industry. Of course she did so to marry her agent—which must've made 'Uncle Walt' jealous. She took being the all-American mom very seriously indeed, and when she came back into the public eye it wasn't as a faux-moralist, like Anita Bryant, but as a spokeswoman and fund-raiser for the disease that afflicted her, muscular dystrophy. In the end, Annette wasn't our pre-pubescent fantasy; she became the kind of mother we watched in the Fifties—not so much on the Mickey Mouse Club, but on Donna Reed, or Beaver, or Father Knows Best. But it's hard not to look at those pictures, with the mouse ears and the bespoke T-shirt, and think about the kind of innocence we like to pretend the world had then.

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