Annette Funicello, famous as an early Mousketeer and as the star of a string of 1960s beach movies, died today at the age of 70.
I remember her well. I wasn’t one of those who had a crush on her, since her wave crested before I hit adolescence, but I was well aware of her. After working many years with Disney she got cast with Frankie Avalon in a string of silly beach blanket movies. She also had a successful career as a singer.
Through all her career she was never – so far as I’ve been able to tell – involved in a scandal. The bikini movies were a little risque by the standards of the day, but she never did anything that crossed the line. Her image remained wholesome, and in time she faced the terrible disease that killed her with all the courage and grace you could ask of a human being.
The question occurred to me today – what would have happened to her if she’d been born later, and had come to fame in our own time?
That’s not a hard question to answer. She did appear again, in a sense, in the person of Britney Spears. And Lindsey Lohan. And Miley Cyrus.
Why was Annette able to live a life of grace, while these younger women, born with the “advantage” of a culture that claims to promote the dignity and rights of women, have quickly made public jokes (and dirty ones) of themselves?
Not to say the younger girls didn’t have lots of “help.” Hollywood is certainly a field well-strewn with pitfalls. Money and fame at an early age are dangerous drugs in themselves, even before you get to the pills and powder.
But Hollywood was no convent school in the 1950s, either. Anybody who worked there in those days will tell you the predators were out in force, and there were ample opportunities for partying.
Annette, I think, benefited from Puritanism. She benefited from a double standard. She benefited from repression, and hypocrisy, and all those awful social constraints we despise the Fifties for today.
A girl in Annette’s position, if she wanted to be a “good girl,” actually had social resources available to her. America was in her corner, back then.
Nowadays, America’s peering through a hole in the Women’s Room wall, with an iPhone camera.
It’s called Progress.
Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is an e-book, Hailstone Mountain.