Books About The Mickey Mouse Club
|A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes
by Annette Funicello with Patricia Romanowski
Hyperion, New York 1994
237 Pages, B/W Photos, Appendix
When writing a memoir it is the author's privilege to remember only what she wants, and Annette has taken full advantage of this. She is an American icon for those over forty-five. Her appeal diminishes under that age, though her celebrity status is known even to today's youth. Despite her recording and film career, it is as a Mouseketeer that she is most fondly remembered. With her withdrawal from public view, due to the progression of her illness, she has attained a saint-like status among her fans, where discussion of her health is discouraged.
Six years after she became aware of her condition, and two years after she publicly revealed her Multiple Sclerosis, Annette dictated this memoir to Patricia Romanowski. This was actually one portion of a multimedia campaign, in which she prepared this book, promoted another book and a TV documentary on the same show, and took part in a TV movie based on her memoir.
In all of this, two people figured quite a bit: her co-author, Patricia Romanowski, and then Disney executive Lorraine Santoli. Romanowski was the hired technician, who wrote with Santoli's guidance to ensure that all pieces of the campaign dovetailed nicely with the Disney version of events. For instance, Annette covers her pre-Mouseketeer modeling career in a single line, though contemporary interviews with her mother make it clear she worked extensively for three years as a paid model. It doesn't fit the official Disney picture of her as the girl next door amateur, hence the cursory mention.
Because this is Annette's version of her life there are no other viewpoints included, though there are large amounts of material, such as a five-page detailed background on Walt Disney's early career, that it strains credibility to imagine as coming from Annette. Her narrative of her Mouseketeer days also seems to owe more to the Disney Archives than to personal recollection. In fact, readers who have read Lorraine Santoli's Official Mickey Mouse Club Handbook will perhaps feel like they have already read certain passages.
Annette hasn't a mean bone in her body; there's no revenge-taking here, no tattling, save for two gentle digs at the same person, a female Mouseketeer. She wisely doesn't name her, but simply recounts a humiliation inflicted during a personal performance that leaves no doubt as to who the guilty party was. Later, discussing her fan mail, she slyly remarks with glee at the surprise of
"...some of the studio people, who in the beginning were quite certain that another of the girl Mouseketeers would be the star."
There's a curious lack of serious emotion to portions of this book. I think this is partly Annette herself, who from necessity became an outwardly engaging person, but never lost her natural reticence with strangers. It is also a result of having someone else put her life into words, with a third person acting as a content editor. This desensitized effect is most noticeable in the brief description of Annette's divorce, where she essentially says only "we grew apart". This is a cursory dismissal of a marriage that lasted fifteen years and produced three children. That there is something more to this is certain, but Annette, conscious that her children and parents would be reading this book, is not forthcoming.
Where Annette's emotions come through most clearly is when talking about her family. Her parents, particularly her mother, are the people who figure most prominently in her life. Their constant devotion to their daughter, often to the detriment of her brothers, speaks loudly of the sheltered life she led. She was the center of their universe, and even as an adult mother of three the reader will be struck at their constant presence within her life. Walt Disney is there of course, in his benevolent uncle guise; no mention of her lawsuits to break her Disney contract is allowed to interfere with this image. Her unrelenting praise and admiration for him is a bit much, and reinforces the gap between her experiences, and those of other Mouseketeers and studio employees.
From her divorce onwards the narrative belongs exclusively to Annette, the guiding Disney hand fading out. Here she at last gives way to some bitterness, describing her years of loneliness after parting from Jack Gilardi.
"Surely, I thought, of all the people I'd met, among all the millions of little boys --- now men --- who'd professed their love for me, certainly a few, maybe a dozen, would call. But no one ever did."
Naturally those boys, now men, would not know her unlisted number, and if they had called she would probably have considered them as stalkers, but that the attitude is unreasonable is all the more to her credit for revealing it.
Her second marriage to Glen Holt and the gradual realization of her illness forms the dramatic climax of the book, though as always, she finds time to mention friends. A staunchly loyal person, she affirms her friendship with actor Paul Rubens, whose career as Pee-Wee Herman had vanished with his arrest on morals charges. In charting her slowly worsening condition, the narrative at last begins to resonate on an emotional level, as Annette uses her religous faith and charitable works to stave off despair and bitterness. She concludes on a warm note, though tinged with sadness that she has no happy ending to offer the reader.