Mouseketeer Roll Call, count off now: Chubby! Karen! Lonnie! Darlene! Annette!
Whoa, hold it right there, Mickey Mouse Club fans. Annette. Annette Funicello, the first sweet breeze of erotic fixation for millions of little boys who grew up in the '50s. And for little girls, Annette was everything they wanted to be when they got a little older.
Everyone has gotten a little older since then, and as for Annette -- the rounding out process that began on television 25 years ago is now complete. On "The Mouseketeer Reunion," a 25th-anniversay NBC special at 7 tomorrow on Channel 4, Annette is still the standout. She is still the one you wait to see.
"There was a part of me that was apprehensive about getting together with everyone again," she says. "I was afraid we wouldn't have anything in common anymore. But it turned out just like old times. All the old songs and dances came right back to us. It was like yesterday."
Or almost like yesterday. People get older, some get fatter, uglier and mushier. But Annette, who once recited immortal lines like "Meeska, Mooska, Mouseketeer, Mousecartoon time now is here," hasn't lost it. She has seasoned rather than aged. The smile has retained its persuasion, and the hair is just a pinch longer, but with the same flirtatious flip in the back.
She's still bubbling with enthusiasm, too. "It was just incredible," she says of the reunion. "But the SAG stike came right in the middle of production. That was really sad. Some of the cast had moved away during the strike, and it was hard to get everyone together again. We were all in tears when the final word about the strike came."
In recent years, one or two of the original Mouseketeers have emerged from the Mousekapast to disparage their stay in Mousekacamp during the '50s. It was run like a prison, they say; they were guarded like orphans. Annette says none of that. She still refers to Unca Walt, the man who founded it all, as "Mr. Disney."
"Mr. Disney came onto the set every day, and there wasn't a thing he wouldn't do for us." she says sweetly. "There was sort of a strict atmosphere, because Mr. Disney had our best interest at heart. There was no swearing allowed from the crew, and there were no mothers allowed on the set. He didn't want any stage mothers around, and I think he was wise in doing that.
"The studio became a second home for me. In the morning, I couldn't wait for the alarm to go off, because I was so anxious to get on the set. That is why this is such a great experience for me. It's not very often that someone gets to go back and relive their childhood."
It's not everybody who'd want to.
Those who do will be flashbacked to the '50s during the opening number, when the Mouseketeer alumni sing and dance in color next to black and white pictures of themselves in their original big ears. Memories will be conjured up of such once-weekly rituals as "Anything Can Happen Day," announced by Annette and the others with the promise, "Today is the day that is filled with surprises; nobody knows what's going to happen."
Today's kids will get some inkling of what the original show was like -- a better show than the updated revival of the program that failed several years ago.
"In my opinion, the kids on that show were too slick, too polished," Annette says. "My kids watched the show, but it didn't really affect them. Nobody stood out for them, there were no favorites, and they couldn't relate to the kids because they were almost too good."
Yes, Annette now has kids of her own: a girl, 15 (15!) and boys 10 and 6. They visited her on the set when she was taping the reunion show. "My kids watch very little TV," Annette says. "Nothing seems real or genuine to them."
Annette says she still gets fan mail, especially a week or so after one of her old "Beach Party" pictures appears on TV; after graduating from the Mouse Academy, she became the heartthrob of the movie beach. And she does eight Skippy Peanut Butter commercials a year.
"I have great apprehension about becoming too involved [in show business]," she says. "I just want to do enough to keep my hand in." But she's very glad she took part in the reunion, because it proved to her that "an experience like that stays with you forever."
It'll stay with a lot of those little boys who watchd in the '50s forever, too. Anything Can Happen Days haven't been the same since.