RIP Annette Funicello, 1942-2013

Annette FunicelloMy older sister and I used to play Mickey Mouse Club. She played Darlene and I played Doreen, mostly because we liked having cute matching names.

In our games, Annette was the popular girl who kept getting all of the good dancing and singing parts because Master of Ceremonies Jimmie Dodd liked her best. It was always just the two of us playing, so all the other characters were always offstage, so to speak. Our games always opened with one of us pretending to run into our dressing room, saying something like You’ll never guess what Annette just said!

Our stories usually had the same plot: Darlene would finally get a chance to star in a big musical number because Jimmie suddenly realize that she was a better singer and dancer than Annette. (Or sometimes because Annette broke her leg or something.) My role as Doreen was to be Darlene’s sidekick and backup singer, and to say things like Oh, Darlene, you’re way more talented than Annette and way less show-offy! Darlene would have moments of triumph but then somehow Annette would be back on top, so in the next episode Darlene would once again start as the plucky underdog.

We played this off and on for a year or more. It was an adaptable game — sometimes we played for an hour or two, with a lot of singing and dancing. Sometimes we’d just slip into dialogue for a few minutes, more like a private joke than a game. We usually played at home, but sometimes on car trips we’d whisper back and forth to each other, pretending to be on the Mouseketeer bus on our way to a special audition. We’d put the game aside for month or more and I’d think it was all over, and then one day my sister would look at me and say something like Annette is getting a special dressing room with her own swimming pool! and off we’d go.

Annette Funicello died today, and now I feel a little guilty because of the role we always gave her in our games. Through the last several years, I have read and seen reports on her declining health and she seemed to live with grace and courage. Rest in Peace, Annette, and I’m sorry I called you “show-offy” so many times. You couldn’t help being the star of the show.

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