Annette Funicello:

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Life was a beach in the actress’ iconic summer movies

By Jeff Pfeiffer,
ReMIND Magazine

Actress/singer Annette Funicello was one of the original Mouseketeers on TV’s “The Mickey Mouse Club” starting in 1955 at age 12. She died in 2013 of complications of multiple sclerosis. Henry Gris/FPG/Getty Images

For generations of movie fans, just hearing the name Annette Funicello — especially paired with Frankie Avalon — can evoke images of carefree, seemingly endless summers spent at the beach listening to tunes, dancing, catching some waves and making time with that special someone.

Even if you live miles from the shore, the incredibly fun teen films pioneered by Funicello and Avalon starting with 1963’s Beach Party still have such an ability to draw you into their worlds that by the end of each movie you almost feel like you should be shaking sand out of your clothes.

Funicello had established herself before these beach pictures. Starting in 1955, at age 12, she was one of the original Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club, where she developed a large fan base. She also had hit songs, notably 1959’s “Tall Paul,” the first time a woman cracked the Top 10 with a rock ’n’ roll single. And singing wasn’t Funicello’s only impact on that era’s music — she also inspired Paul Anka’s 1960 classic “Puppy Love.”

It was the beach movies, however, that brought her into her adult acting career (even if she played a teenager), with titles also including Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964) and — perhaps best-known — Beach Blanket Bingo (1965).

Funicello having fun with rocker Ozzy Osbourne during her Skippy peanut butter days.

Funicello and Avalon appeared together in nine teen-oriented films from 1963-66 that are generally lumped in the “beach” genre. (Although most of the films did take place at the beach, there were outliers like 1965’s Ski Party, which proved there were also teenage kicks to be had in the wintertime.) Demonstrating how firmly these films had become entrenched in pop culture, Funicello and Avalon reunited onscreen in their 40s — over 20 years after the last “official” beach movie — for the 1987 release Back to the Beach.

That film was well-received, with a similar mix of summertime fun and music as the originals, along with self-aware humor. It showed a new generation, who may have recognized Funicello more as a Skippy peanut butter spokeswoman, that she was still queen of the beach.

Although the world lost Annette Funicello in 2013, the sun will never set on the summery spirit of the cinematic beach party she and Frankie Avalon started in the hearts of moviegoers over 50 years ago.

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