I suppose everyone has childhood heroes who maintain a place in their hearts with the passage of decades. I have fond spots in my memory for Detroit Tiger superstar Al Kaline, Albert Einstein and Fess Parker (Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in the original TV series and movies). Parker died in 2010, Einstein in 1955, but Kaline at 78 still holds a largely honorary position with the Tigers.
Annette as a Mouseketeer circa 1956
Sadly, Annette passed away yesterday at the age of 70 from complications of MS. As I read the news this morning, tears welled and my throat grew a distinct lump. You see, Annette, who was one of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers, was the first woman I ever loved.
I was a bit old to have a crush on her. When she made her debut on the Disney TV show in 1955, I was already in double-digits (having reached the ripe old age of 10) while she was 13. But I never let that stop me. I was glued to the TV set every week to watch the Clubhouse gang, but I was always particularly waiting for her to make her appearance. Whether it was her exotic olive skin (I was living in a lily-white suburb of Detroit at the time), her smile, or the fact that she was the first girl I’d seen who was showing some curves, I fell for her, as we used to say back in those days, “hook, line and sinker.”
I was surprised in reading of her death today that she averaged 8,000 fan letters per month while the show was on TV. It felt like I had written her at least that many some months. In point of fact, though, I realize in retrospect that I probably only sent her two or three; my parents wouldn’t have spent the money on the postage for many repeat attempts to win her heart.
All reports say she weathered her MS with poise, good spirits and the dignity fitting of a young woman who honored her second-father and mentor Walt Disney’s request never to wear a bikini and besmirch her clean-cut public image. Yet I am certain that her last years were filled with physical pain, frustration at not being able to do what she wanted to do, and occasional sadness for the vast stage of life she’d be leaving too soon.
My good, good friend Clay Cotton, a fantastic boogie-woogie pianist (check out his piano here), Internet sage and all-around wonderful human being, has also been diagnosed with MS and I’ve watched him over the past several years deal with this relentless disease.
So, Annette, as you move to your next adventure on the eternal plane of All That Is, I sing you a farewell:
M-I-C (see you real soon) K-E-Y (Why? Because I like you!) M-O-U-S-E