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R.I.P. Annette Funicello: Oct. 22, 1942 to April 8, 2013

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Young lads growing up during television’s toddler years were virtually unanimous when it came to Mouseketeer Annette Funicello.

She made us secretly or not so secretly like girls, even though they were still supposed to be icky to a seven-year-old kid like me on the afternoon of Oct. 3,1955.

That’s the day The Mickey Mouse Club premiered in all its black-and-white after-school glory. And of the nine original Mouseketeers -- also including Cubby, Karen, Bobby, Darlene, Tommy, Sharon, Lonnie and Doreen -- Annette stood out like a Popsicle on a vegetable plate. She died on Tuesday, April 8th at age 70 of complications from Multiple Sclerosis, which she had endured since 1992.

Annette’s fellow Mouseketeers also had their moments. But her attributes, both talent-wise and otherwise, took her to another level that never really leveled off.

It’s a fun trivial matter to note that Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Keri Russell, and Ryan Gosling went on to become stars after first appearing in latter-day incarnations of The Mickey Mouse Club.

But Annette became a star of the first magnitude during her 1955-’59 year stint as a Mouseketeer. Those subsequent hit Beach Party movies with Frankie Avalon were driven by her already huge popularity. The first one, in 1963, was a mega-event in those days for both tweens and teens.

Despite her remarkable popularity, Annette never hit the skids or had a scandal. She was personally discovered by Walt Disney, and always revered both the man and the wholesome family entertainment he so skillfully packaged. That made her a square with some eye-popping curves that had about as much chance of being bared in the pages of Playboy as Hugh Hefner has of guest-hosting The 700 Club.

In 1995’s The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book by Lorraine Santoli, Annette recalls the 16th birthday present she received from Disney: “He knocked on the door of the little red trailer where I was going to school and said, ‘Annette, I’d like to see you for a minute.’ So I went outside and he presented me with a script and said, ‘Happy Sweet Sixteen, you’re appearing on Zorro.’ I was so touched I started crying. He knew how I felt about Guy Williams (who played the title character). I mean, who could ask for a better boss?”

Annette also wrote the Foreword to The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book. People often ask her where her original Mouska-ears are, she said. “And I tell them they’re bronzed and sitting in my living room. I had them bronzed so every time I pass by, I’d be reminded of wonderful memories. I owe everything to those ears and feel so lucky to have been one of the chosen few who can call themselves original Mouseketeers.”

She no doubt meant every word of this. Through superstardom, ill health and even in 1965’s How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Annette Funicello was ever-gracious, never salacious. Her passing means she’ll feel no more pain from a debilitating disease.

It’s also cause for some of us to remember the way we were -- and the way she was -- during her time as the biggest kid star on the planet.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net