And now comes the news that Annette Funicello has died. Her passing was not a surprise. I had heard about her health problems years ago. But to learn that she was seventy years old was a bit of a shock. My first thought was, “No, that can’t be right.”
Annette Funicello was the prettiest girl who ever wore mouse ears, and she was my first crush. The Mickey Mouse Club was already in reruns when I became a fan in the early 1960’s. By then Annette had grown up and was about to become queen of the “beach movie” genre, but I didn’t know that.
I watched her on a bulky, cube-shaped RCA television that sat on a wheeled stand so we could push it around to any room in the house. Today, AT&T runs commercials touting a wireless receiver that lets you do the modern day equivalent of the same thing, and they call it progress.
My brothers and I had free reign over the TV when we were growing up because my parents rarely watched it. There were a few exceptions. They saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and pronounced them “awful.” They watched Sid Caesar’s show occasionally. My father liked Imogene Coca for reasons that I never understood. But for the most part, the bulky, flickering cube played no role in their lives.
Having parents who were thoroughly disinterested in the TV was a boon in many ways, but it also had some drawbacks. The worst was their lack of motivation to keep up with advances in broadcast technology, so the color revolution bypassed our house completely. Watching the NBC peacock unfurl its feathers in fifty shades of gray was a tough thing to take, especially when I knew how glorious it looked in living color. For years we pleaded with my father to upgrade to a color set, but he flatly refused.
So we watched all of the defining events of the era unfold in black and white: the assassination of President Kennedy and, a few years later, of his younger brother, the death of Martin Luther King, the news reports from Vietnam, the peace movement, Neil Armstrong’s one small step for man, and most importantly, Tiny Tim’s wedding.
In the early 1970’s, after I had gone to college, my father discovered that he liked a show called The Rockford Files, and not long after that, we owned a color TV. The bulky cube went into the attic, finally taking its rightful place as a relic of the past.
And that brings me back to Annette Funicello. It sounds a little silly for someone my age to admit to being sentimental about the death of a celebrity. A lot of famous people have left us recently, events I observed with little more than a passing interest. But with Annette it feels different. It seems more personal somehow. I suspect it goes back about fifty years, to the afternoons when I sat cross-legged on the floor, entranced by the image of the prettiest girl who ever wore mouse ears on an old black and white TV set.