LOS ANGELES —
But there was something special about the Mouseketeer with the curly black hair that unexpectedly turned her into the ensemble cast’s biggest star.
Funicello made her acting debut on “The Mickey Mouse Club” serial “Adventure in Dairyland.” She also appeared in two of the popular “Spin and Marty” serials about a Western dude ranch for boys, with Tim Considine and David Stollery in the title roles. And in 1958, Disney showcased his prized Mouseketeer in her own “Annette” serial.
Mr. Disney, as Funicello always called her boss, also licensed Annette lunch boxes, Colorforms dolls, coloring books, comic books and even mystery novels featuring her in fictionalized adventures.
After “The Mickey Mouse Club” ended production in 1958 and wet into reruns, the 15-year-old Funicello was the only Mouseketeer to remain under exclusive contract to the Disney studio.
She made her feature-film debut in “The Shaggy Dog,” a 1959 comedy starring Fred MacMurray. It was the first of four Disney feature films she appeared in over the next six years, including “Babes in Toyland,” “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” and “The Monkey’s Uncle.”
Funicello received a big career boost when Disney agreed to loan her out to American International Pictures to make “Beach Party,” the song-filled, low-budget 1963 comedy in which she was first teamed on the big screen with Avalon.
In the wake of the success of “Beach Party,” Funicello and Avalon co-starred in “Muscle Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach” and “Beach Blanket Bingo.”