Then: The most popular Mouseketeer by far, Annette Funicello (pictured here in her Mouse Club dressing room) incited instant and lasting passion in fans, particularly adolescent boys. At 12, she became one of the first batch of Mouseketeers when Walt Disney hand-picked her from a dance recital he attended. Almost instantly, she was receiving the vast majority of the Club fan mail, and as she grew up before fans’ eyes, she became known as much for her curves as for her sweet, shy demeanor. “No American male my age who watched the show who didn’t remember watching Annette’s dramatic — what shall I call it? — flowering,” says onetime Mouseketeer Paul Petersen. She became a national sensation, complete with endless teen magazine coverage and hit pop records. “The thing about Annette is not only did the guys like her, but the girls did too,” says costar Sharon Baird, one of Annette’s lifelong best friends.
Now: Though Annette was sad to end her time as a Mouseketeer, she immediately embarked on an even bigger post-Club career. She was the only Mouseketeer to sign a production deal with Disney, and she went on to make several films (Babes in Toyland and The Shaggy Dog among them), records (including Top 10 hit “Tall Paul”), and TV shows for the company. She later became a pop culture icon in her own right with a series of 1960s Beach Party movies co-starring Frankie Avalon. She transitioned to full-time motherhood in the late ’60s, but returned to the public eye with her 1987 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. She got her Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 1993, with Mickey Mouse by her side. She’s no longer able to give interviews, but she remains in close touch with many of her Mouseketeer co-stars. “She’s still the love of our lives,” Tommy Cole says. “She’s still the beautiful brunette everybody knew.”
For more on the Mouseketeers’ lives on The Mickey Mouse Club and beyond, check out my book Why? Because We Still Like You.