When Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club debuted on October 3, 1955, the world fell in love with Annette Funicello, the Mouseketeer whose shy smile captivated the show’s young viewers. After she outgrew her Ears, her fans followed her acting and singing career as well as her personal life as a wife and mother. When Annette passed away from complications of multiple sclerosis on April 8, 2013, the world mourned.
There have been many testimonials given about Annette from her family and show business associates. In this book, former Annette Fan Club president Rita Rose offers an in-depth look at Annette’s character from the perspectives of lesser-known people in her life, and how her kindness, generosity, and sense of humor impacted them. Several Mouseketeers and other performers offer their insights, too.
What you’ll see inside this book:
This unique look at Annette’s relationships behind the scenes is a must-read for all of her fans!
Bonnie Kirn Wendt
Sherry Alberoni Van Meter
Janet Almanzi Lundy
Luree Nicholson / Salli Sachse
Eileen Diamond Rogosin
Sandy Ferra Martindale
Judy Harriet Richman
Annette Memorial Speech
Nothing bad was ever supposed to happen to Annette Funicello. She led a charmed life. She was kind, unpretentious and pretty, and lacked ego in a profession that practically demands it. She was our sweet, shy Mouseketeer and our young, beautiful beach girl. So when Annette announced to the world in 1992 that she had Multiple Sclerosis, we lost a big chunk of our innocence. How could Annette be sick? We were devastated by the unfairness of her diagnosis.
I’ll never forget the afternoon that I got a phone call from Annette, just a couple of days before the initial announcement of her MS that first appeared in USA Today. She started out with the usual chit-chat, then she said, “I have something to tell you, and I want you to hear it from me before it appears in the newspaper.” I didn’t know anything about MS, and she explained it was a disease of the central nervous system, and hers was progressive. I don’t remember my response, I was so stunned. She was five years into her diagnosis before revealing it to the public: Only her second husband, Glen Holt, her mother and three kids knew. Later, she said she was afraid of hurting her fans, or that people wouldn’t love her anymore if she revealed her disease.
“I didn’t go public for a long time because I believed people wanted to think that nothing bad ever happens to Annette,” she said.
She couldn’t have been more wrong about her fans, or anyone else in her life. Everyone rallied around and supported her.
I was in high school when I started my Annette Funicello National Fan Club. There were several other clubs for her in the 1960s, and we presidents got to know each other and enjoyed sharing photos and information on our favorite star. Many of us are still friends today, and we’re in our 70s! My club continued for nearly three decades, during which time I was immersed in the fandom that surrounded Annette. Her participation was more than I ever expected—she always gave 100 percent to everything she did. She provided autographed pictures, wrote letters, answered questions from fans and kept me up-to-date on the latest news. She sent wonderful gifts and beautiful handwritten letters.
I started out as a fan and became a friend. Her friends call her Annie, she said, so I called her Annie too. When she invited me and another fan club president, Bonnie Kirn Wendt, to her wedding to Jack Gilardi in 1965, we were surprised—and thrilled! And, of course, we went to California to share her special day. The first time I met Annette, she was wearing a wedding dress.
When the Internet became popular in the mid-’90s, several groups dedicated to Annette, including our fan club, popped up on Yahoo. Then we moved over to Facebook, where there currently are a half dozen fan pages dedicated to Annette. Instagram and other social media also have Annette pages. Facebook was hugely instrumental in connecting me to fans as well as several people interviewed for this book.
When Annette passed away on April 8, 2013, she had lived with MS for 26 years. And while we mourned her death, I also wondered what would happen to those of us who had been dedicated fans since the Mickey Mouse Club. What happened was, we never lost our admiration for Annette. Every day I log onto Facebook and see photos and other posts about her with enthusiastic responses from hundreds of fans. We are still here, and we will never stop loving Annette Funicello.
One thing that I’ve discovered over the years, after interacting with fans from all over the USA and Canada, is that if you know someone is an admirer of Annette’s, you already know a lot about that person. Annette had a great appreciation for her fans and became friends with many of them. Fans are the backbone of any celebrity’s success. Without them, celebrity quickly fades.
And so, this book is dedicated to all of her fans.
Most of us know the stories behind Annette’s relationships with other celebrities, but this book digs a little deeper. I found people who knew Annette for a few minutes, a few weeks or several years, all of whom were impacted by their encounters with her. Her bestie, actress Shelley Fabares, talks about how Annette became her lifetime friend and confidante. But most of the others are people you’ve probably never heard of, whose stories and photos will be new to you. Sandy Ferra, a childhood friend, relives the years before Annette became famous. Kevin Kidney relates his story about designing Annette’s famous Disney cane, and how he eventually got to meet her. A late-in-life friend, Kathy Maraldo, recounts the many trips Annette made to New Orleans and how she was able to help Annette after her MS diagnosis.
In this book are pictures of Annette with nearly everyone I interviewed, plus rare family photos that were given to Nick Strange, a fan and family friend, to archive. His story is here, too. These memories of Annette take on different forms: Some friends wrote their own, some preferred to be interviewed, and some told me their stories that I made into narratives. They all give insight into Annette’s impeccable character.
Annette’s mom, Virginia Funicello, passed away in 2007, but she is represented here, too. Virgie was very much involved with Annette’s fans. She often invited them to the Funicello home when Annette was young, and always enjoyed a phone call from fan/friends as Annette’s career progressed. When she showed up for Annette’s events she consistently made a point of interacting with those who attended. Virgie was a fun, chatty redhead who had endless stories to tell and food to offer. Included in this book is her story, reprinted from a fan club journal (fanzine).
Annette was always family-oriented and had no problem scaling back her career to raise the three Gilardi children, Gina, Jacky and Jason. She was an engaged mom who drove car pools and worked at the Little League snack bar. It is heartbreaking to know that she is unable to enjoy being in the lives of her children and her four beautiful grandchildren.
I hope you’ll enjoy the reminiscences in this book and feel the enduring affection from those who shared their Annette stories. Somewhere, her bright Mouseke-light is shining down on all of us.