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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Annette Funicello & Beach Blanket Memories

Before I continue on with today’s blog topic, there’s something that I want to address within this blog.  As it so happens, the topic that I chose for this subject kind of loosely ties into the subject that I had initially chosen for today.  So, I suppose in some ways, this could be a double blog entry.  In one perspective, we’re going to be talking about some wonderful outdoor activities that I’m sure that most of us partook in during our childhoods.  And, in another, we’ll be paying tribute to a woman who charmed audiences everywhere for several decades, while showing the world how strong she was following a life-changing medical diagnosis which eventually lead to her death two days ago at the age of 70.

For the first part of this entry, we pay tribute to actress/singer/Mouseketeer Annette Funicello.

I’ll admit that when I was younger, I wasn’t exactly sure who Annette Funicello was at first.  I had heard the name before, but I never really knew just how famous she was. 

It actually wasn’t until I saw her appearing on a television sitcom that I began to understand why so many people loved her.

The sitcom was ABC’s “Full House”.  And, don’t make fun...I was barely ten years old at the time, and I thought it was funny back then.  Now I can’t get through an episode without getting a toothache based on how sugary sweet the show really was, but back then I thought it was delightful. 

On March 29, 1991, the fourth season episode of the series aired, entitled “Joey Goes Hollywood”.  The basic plot of the episode had Joey and the Tanner family heading down to Hollywood so that Joey could audition for a part in a new sitcom. 

(The B-plot involved Stephanie wanting to change her name to Dawn, but nobody really cared about that.)

Anyway, if Joey had gotten the part, he would have starred in the sitcom “Surf’s Up”, which had Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello as the main stars.  And, of course, the cuteness of Full House was into major overload with Michelle calling Annette “Annette Funny Jello”, and Danny confessing that he wrote a fan letter to Annette when he was a child, soaking it in Lemon Scented Pledge in the process. 

The episode ended on a somewhat disappointing note, as the sitcom wasn’t picked up...but apparently the show was retooled as an animated series, and Joey, Frankie, and Annette would end up providing the voices for the cartoon characters...a dream that Joey had for years.  Another happy ending on “Full House”!  What a surprise.

But, it was through watching that episode of “Full House” that helped me understand why Annette Funicello was so loved.  The stage presence that she had in that one episode was absolutely mesmerizing, and she was absolutely charming throughout the whole episode.  I may have only been barely ten, but I thought she was beautiful...even though she was old enough to be my mother!  And, throughout the episode, I ended up getting some clues as to how she grew to be such an icon in show business.

Through Annette’s dialogue with Bob Saget (who played Danny), we learned that she was a former Mouseketeer on the original Mickey Mouse Club...and one of the most popular.  Just have a look at a clip of her in action from early 1958...when Annette was just fifteen years old.

We also learned from the scenes that involved John Stamos and Lori Loughlin (who played Jesse and Becky on “Full House”), that Becky had a bit of a crush on Frankie Avalon after seeing him and Annette in the various beach party movies that they starred in throughout the 1960s. 

Come to think of it, I suppose the fact that the sitcom within the sitcom was set at a beach was somewhat of a cliché...but I don’t think Frankie and Annette minded too much, as both of them must have had such fond memories of the beach.

At any rate, one thing that I noticed about that “Full House” episode was how full of life Annette Funicello was through the whole show.  She was singing and dancing as if she was a woman half her age, and her smile lit up a room.  Therefore, it’s almost mindboggling to realize that just one year after filming that episode, she sat down with Mary Hart on “Entertainment Tonight” to reveal a devastating secret that she had kept for five years.

Annette Funicello was battling multiple sclerosis.  She had been diagnosed with the disease back in 1987 while she was filming the movie “Back to the Beach” with Avalon.  By 1992, she had been walking with a cane, and just six years later, she was having difficulty speaking.  During this time, a television movie was made entitled “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes”, which featured CSI: Miami star Eva LaRue as Annette.  Annette Funicello made a cameo in the movie as herself, and as it happened, it would be the last acting role she would take on.

Annette fought the disease valiantly, and she had millions of fans and supporters who gave her the motivation to keep going.  But her condition worsened over time, and on April 8, 2013, she passed away from complications associated with multiple sclerosis.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t alive at the time that Annette’s star was shining its brightest, because I have a feeling that had I been born 40 years earlier, I would have liked her.  If seeing her on an episode of “Full House” brought me happiness, I’m almost certain that watching her on the Mickey Mouse Club would have been a fantastic and rewarding experience.

And, I’m also sorry that I wasn’t around at the time that she filmed all those beach movies with Frankie Avalon either.  I know that all of the films are readily available on VHS or DVD by now, but it’s not quite the same as actually going to the movies and watching them.

I would imagine that Frankie and Annette would have had a lot on fun on that beach.  Aside from the kisses and romance that their characters shared on the big-screen, the beach was always a place that seemed to have a lot to do.  You could go swimming, surfing, and play with several beach toys.

And, that’s how we’re going to transition into the second (and original) part of this blog entry.  We’re going to be talking beach memories here!

Now, I know that it’s only April, and in a lot of places, the beach is still too cold to hang out at (particularly since in my part of the world, we seem to be experiencing the winter that will not die), but what can I say?  I’m optimistic.  Warm weather will come soon enough, and that’s something that I keep telling myself as I make a bit of a career transition in the next few days (I’ll talk more about that tomorrow).

When I was a kid, I used to love going to the beach.  At the time, we had a couple of beaches that were accessible to the general public.  One was Brown’s Bay, which was a great picnic area, and at the time I was a kid, was quite affordable.  The only downside was that the swimming area was a little too deep for my liking, so I couldn’t go wading in the water.

CONFESSION:  Because of a swimming pool accident in which I almost drowned, I did not learn how to swim until I was 22...and even now, I wouldn’t consider what I do to be “swimming”.

The other beach that I preferred was St. Lawrence Park, aptly named after the river that flowed beside it.  At the time, St. Lawrence Park was the place to take a dip, get some rays, and grab a snack from the canteen located near the playground equipment.  It was the place where I spent the first thirteen or fourteen summers of my life.  My parents would take me swimming there, as unlike Brown’s Bay I actually could stay in the shallow end.  I also remember that there was a family picnic held at St. Lawrence Park every August (coinciding with the Civic Holiday), and for some reason I remember one vivid memory at one of these picnics where I played BINGO – and winning five dollars in cash for winning two games in a row!

I also remember going to St. Lawrence Park every Thursday to swim while I was enrolled in a parks and recreation playground program.  So many memories of chewing sour gumballs while splashing other kids (and getting splashed myself) in the water.  Although, I admit that I may have been splashing a little too vigorously at times, as I have distinct memories of being yanked out of the water by the lifeguard!  Ah well...

But, swimming wasn’t the only memory that I have of the beach.  I recall the many attempts at building sand castles that I partook in - only to have every single one of them fall apart.  I think my biggest problem was not enough water.  The beach, as cool as it was at St. Lawrence Park, was also very tiny...and all of the prime spots where the wet packed sand was were always monopolized by other kids. 

It wasn’t until years later in which I assisted everyone in building a sand sculpture at Mooney’s Bay Park in Ottawa during Frosh Week that I learned how to perfect my sand castle building skills.  If memory serves me, our sculpture actually did quite well in judging.

I also played on the playground equipment that was located around the snack stand.  There was a play structure that everyone played on, and I remember sliding down that slide dozens of times...although I also have a rather bad memory of the slide.

There was one mishap in which I ended up sliding down the slide and I landed the wrong way...ended up bashing my head against the bottom of the slide which lead to a huge gash in my head.  And, yes, it was a very bloody mess.  Surprisingly enough, I didn’t develop a fear of slides.

I’ve even gone swimming in one of the Great Lakes.  I live not too far away from Lake Ontario, and a few summers ago, I went on a mini-vacation to Kingston, where there was a theme park called “Lake Ontario Park”.  It was a great place with lots of carnival rides, including the Tilt-A-Whirl, Bumper Cars, The Scrambler, and a merry-go-round.  And, of course, there was Lake Ontario, which was a nice lake to look at.  I just wish someone had warned me that on the rocky shore of Lake Ontario the water make the rocks extremely slippery.  I lost count of how many times I slipped and fell...I think it was at least thirty-seven times though.  J

But, those are just some of my most favourite beach memories.  What are yours?

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