Annette Funicello, who died on April 8, was the first significant heartthrob for every baby-boomer boy. In fact, she might just go down in history as the first teen post-World War II Girl Next Door — no small feat in an era when Beach Blanket Bingo and Where the Boys Are captured the restless generation’s imagination.
Funicello, like all icons in every field, was perfect for the job. She projected more than merely a virginal persona that went hand in hand with America before the Beatles hit and excited teenage girls’ hormones. From watching her on the movie screen, you had a sense that she was concealing her intelligence. She was no dummy. She was likable for that reason, too.
Without her, there never would have been such a popular-culture force as Gidget or the Flying Nun, the two television that jump-started the career of the always-terrific Sally Field. Field’s Gidget took the image of Funicello as good-time beach girl to a higher level. But if Funicello hadn’t made her mark, it’s possible that Sally Field couldn’t have made hers in the same way.
The same goes for many of the other teenage TV princesses.
Remember The Patty Duke Show on ABC? I sure do, and very fondly. Patty”Lane” might just have been inspired by the good vibrations that Annette Funicello projected on the left coast. Patty Duke’s Brooklyn Heights hip chick was also an outgrowth of what Funicello gave the world.
Unfortunately, this kind of revisionist history probably won’t help give Funicello the sort of respect that she deserves. It’s too bad because we don’t always appreciate the originals who made it possible for people to follow them. Funicello will always be universally loved for her part in those frozen-in-time Hollywood teen goofball movies.
But she should be remembered for blazing a path as well.
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