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Annette Funicello was a Mouseketeer, beach-movie star

Annette Funicello appeared on 'The Mickey Mouse Club' in the 1950s and starred in a series of movies with Frankie Avalon. Annette Funicello died April 8.

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The filmmakers weren't aiming for art, and they didn't achieve it. As Halliwell's Film Guide says of "Beach Party": "Quite tolerable in itself, it started an excruciating trend."

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But the films had songs, cameos by older stars and a few laughs and, as a bonus to latter-day viewers, a look back at a more innocent time. The 1965 "Beach Blanket Bingo," for example, featured subplots involving a mermaid, a motorcycle gang and a skydiving school run by Don Rickles, and comic touches by silent film star Buster Keaton.

Among the other titles: "Muscle Beach Party," ''Bikini Beach," ''How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" and "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine."

The beach films featured ample youthful skin. But not Funicello's.

She remembered in 1987: "Mr. Disney said to me one day, 'Annette, I have a favor to ask of you. I know all the girls are wearing bikinis, but you have an image to uphold. I would appreciate it if you would wear a one-piece suit.' I did, and I never regretted it."

The shift in teen tastes begun by the Beatles in 1964 and Funicello's first marriage the following year pretty much killed off the beach-movie genre.

But she was somehow never forgotten though mostly out of the public eye for years. She and Avalon staged a reunion in 1987 with "Back to the Beach."

She wrote of her triumphs and struggles in her 1994 autobiography, "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" — the title taken from a Disney song. In 1995, she appeared briefly in a television docudrama based on her book.

Funicello was born Oct. 22, 1942, in Utica, New York, and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 4. She began taking dance lessons the following year and won a beauty contest at 9. Then came the discovery by Disney in 1955.

"I have been blessed to have a mentor like Walt Disney," she said 40 years later. "Those years were the happiest of my life. I felt that back then. I feel the same today."

Asked about the revisionist biographies that have portrayed Disney in a negative light, she said, "I don't know what went on in the conference rooms. I know what I saw. And he was wonderful."

In 1965, Funicello married her agent, Jack Gilardi, and they had three children, Gina, Jack and Jason. The couple divorced 18 years later, and in 1986 she married Glen Holt, a harness racehorse trainer. After her film career ended, she devoted herself to her family. Her children sometimes appeared on the TV commercials she made for peanut butter.

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