When I was nine years old and in fourth grade, I became a big fan of The Mickey Mouse Club. Like most of the show’s watchers, Annette Funicello became my favorite Mouseketeer. When the show ended and Annette started her singing career, I read about her in movie magazines and was impressed with how down-to-earth and sweet she was. I joined a couple of her fan clubs that were very popular at the time, and became friends with one of the presidents, Bonnie Kirn. My interest in journalism and writing was strong, and I thought about how much fun it would be to run my own club for Annette. Bonnie gave me her address, and a couple of weeks later I got a long letter from Annette giving me permission to start a fan club and telling me about her latest movie. A few days after that, photos arrived, including an autographed one for me!
So, at age 15, I started a fan club for my favorite star that lasted 28 years! When I was 18, Bonnie and I received invitations to Annette’s wedding to her agent, Jack Gilardi, on Jan. 9, 1965. So off we flew to L.A. to meet Annette on this very special day in her life.
Pretty heady for two teenagers from the Midwest! The next several years brought many visits to Annette’s home and an unexpected friendship that grew out of running a fan club. Meanwhile, I had gotten a job as an entertainment reporter for The Indianapolis Star where I worked for 43 years.
When Annette was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1987, she didn’t go public with it until 1992. Her fans were devastated, and Annette had a long, 26-year battle with the progressive disease that robbed her of speech and mobility. She passed away on April 6, 2013, and Bonnie and I spoke at her celebration of life at Disney Studios.
I had always wanted to write a book about Annette. Her autobiography came out in 1994, so I thought about what I could do to honor this very special lady. When Annette died, many celebrities and show biz notables came forward to honor her. I decided to go beyond that and reached out to her fans and some lesser-known friends for personal stories and anecdotes about how she impacted their lives. One source would lead me to another source and pretty soon I had wonderful remembrances and some rare photos of Annette. Thus, Annette Funicello: Tributes from Fans and Friends, was born.
Some of the people I talked to were known to me; others were not. Several Mouseketeers offered their memories as well as a childhood friend, a cousin and others who knew Annette to be exceptionally kind and who handled her illness with grace. A couple of celebrities, including her best friend, actress Shelley Fabares, and singer Bobby Rydell, contributed. The stories from several fan/friends play a big role in making the book a true tribute to the beloved Mouseketeer who captured our attention in 1955.
David Stollery, who appeared with Annette in the “Spin and Marty” serial on The Mickey Mouse Club, said it best: “Annette Funicello was effortlessly genuine.”
Many thanks to host Patty Spitler and producer/videographer Ramon Carrera for featuring me and my book on Great Day TV!
Annette Funicello: Tributes from Fans and Friends, is available on Amazon.com. My previous book about Sandy Allen from Shelbyville, Ind., World’s Tallest Woman: The Giantess of Shelbyville High, also is available on Amazon.