Deer In Headlines
By Gery L. Deer
In 1955, Walt Disney personally selected, 12-year-old, Annette Funicello to become one of the first “Mouseketeers” on the original Mickey Mouse Club television series. She’d been discovered in a production of Swan Lake at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank California but quickly became one of America’s best known actresses.
A gifted actor, singer and dancer, Funicello’s formidable years were spent growing up in front of a camera. In 1960, she hung up her bowed mouse ears and signature white sweater bearing her name (reading simply, “Annette”) to take on a movie career, but never shook her “America’s sweetheart” image.
During the 1960’s, Funicello appeared in a series of beach party movies with singer Frankie Avalon. Though they lived very separate lives off-screen, the two were so successful and appeared so often together on screen, most people believed they were actually married.
Annette continued working through the next two decades in reunion beach movies, television appearances and as the ultimate “mom” figure in Skippy peanut butter commercials. Her death on April 8, from complications related to Multiple Sclerosis, saddened millions of fans around the world, but her “goody two shoes” image never faded, even at 70.
After the success of the Mickey Mouse Club, Disney tried to revamp the show; first with a syndicated version in 1977 and then on the Disney cable network for a healthy, seven-year run. While they did turn out some great talent, neither reboot had cast members with quite the same popular appeal of the original.
Many of the Mouseketeers from the first series went on to have long, successful careers, in front of and behind the camera. Likewise, several modern pop stars got their start with Mickey including Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Agulera, just to name a few.
There’s no question these talented people will leave their mark, but it’s hard to imagine anyone remembering Britney or Justin in the same way as the previous generations remember Annette and her fellow Mouseketeers. In those days, the standards for behavior, public and private, were far higher, although somewhat unrealistic.
Anyone in the public eye under the Disney logo had to be the model of the boy or girl next door, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Any variation from that image meant a summary dismissal by Walt himself. The fact was, sometimes there were problems no one outside ever saw and those kids were discharged anyway. When scandal attached itself to a young actor, the “cute factor” could no longer be exploited and a replacement would have to be found in a quickly executed and masterful work of marketing sleight of hand.
Of course no one working on television in the 1950’s was as squeaky clean as they were made out to be on the air, but they did their best to maintain their image, at least enough to stay employed. In retrospect, it may not be such a bad thing if studios re-instituted Walt’s no-tolerance attitude so long as the performers are under contract. With justice and good sense taking a backseat to public demand for perpetuation of pop culture icons, it’s not right that celebrities wear bad behavior like a badge of honor.
What kind of example does that set for young people? Isn’t that the question that’s always being asked by the media “experts” who admonish someone out of one side of their mouths while out of the other side giving a pass to Lindsay Lohan for her latest drug-induced infraction? American society is riddled with double standards and a declining sense of integrity and self-worth.
It seems today that people are more likely to be ridiculed for staying clear of drugs, alcohol and other life-wrecking activities while others are honored for completing a 12-step program after the fact. Seems a bit backwards, doesn’t it? There should be more honor and reward in having avoided the problem in the first place than to have succumbed.
Who knows, maybe the Mickey Mouse Club’s day is done and the clubhouse should remain boarded up and dark until a new generation decides it’s cool to be good again.