February 10, 1975
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark

Out of that great mousehole in the American living room, the TV screen, have re‑emerged, yes, Mickey Mouse and the original Mouseketeers. M‑I‑C‑K‑E‑Y ... Why? Because they like you, that's why.

Also, of course, they like residuals. The re‑runs of the late (1955‑59) Mick­ey Mouse Club are back in syndication for the first time in nearly a decade to cash in on any still unsated national lech for nostalgia. Already spread to 52 cities, the series has been promoted in prime time in hopes that the flower children of the '50s who are themselves now parents will force‑feed their own kids on the Mouseketeers. Of all the over‑aged viewers, none could have felt spookier watching the club's third coming than a 32‑year‑old mother of three in Encino, Calif. ‑Annette Funicello. More than anyone else in the cast, Annette grew up from a back‑row ear‑wearer when she was 12 to its star by the time the show expired. And none too soon. She was 17, and the ANNETTE on her T‑shirt was beginning to bulge promisingly to the giggles of millions of prepubescent boys.

Someone else who noticed was talent agent Jack Gilardi, who negotiated the deals that turned Funicello from Mouseketeer to beach‑blanket bunny opposite Frankie Avalon in that '60s surfeit of drive‑in epics. When Jack, who is 12 years older, wondered what Annette was doing after the work he won her, she said no‑thanks, but finally relented ‑as long as her parents chaperoned. Last month they celebrated their 10th anniversary.

No longer a Mouse, Annette Funicello, 32, is still all ears listening to husband Jack Gilardi, a top Hollywood agent.

Though Funicello has never looked niftier (she can still cinch her old 18" club belt), she went into semiretirement after Head in 1968 and cut herself down to TV guest spots and commercials. Agent Gilardi, however, has hardly hurt for business, representing preeminent stars like Carroll O'Connor, Telly Savalas and Valerie Harper. For all their success, the Gilardis live a quiet life of which the man Annette still calls Mr. Disney would approve. "I get scripts," she says, "that would have me on dope, raped, getting an abortion. I'm just not interested." They have three kids, Gina, 9, Jackie, 5, and Jason, 3 months. And their ranch house overlooking the San Fernando Valley is full of Mickey Mouse memorabilia, two framed Papal Blessings (they are unswerving Catholics) and Jack's Man‑of‑the‑Year award from the California Italian‑American organization.

Annette now has three Disney disciples of her own ‑Jackie, 5, Jason, 3 months, and Gina, 9‑ though the older boy admits that he digs 'Batman' the most.

Annette's pastimes are needlepoint and harness‑racing, and every Wednesday, she says, "I cry my eyes out watching Little House on the Prairie." When the Mouseketeers returned this year, she found, "it made me feel young again. I remember every show so well. I watched myself doing a little toe dance, and I remember how my feet were killing me that day."

Son Jackie, who, like all 5‑year‑olds, knows how to hurt a mother, professed to prefer Batman. And it is a fact that kids today, accustomed to the Technicolor sophistication of Sesame Street, may find the black‑and‑white, all‑Caucasian Mickey Mouse Club slightly naive and passé. Annette herself points out that "it is too soon to tell how permanent the impact will really be." But there is one thing the Nielsens can't take away from the Mickey Mouse Club. Says Annette Funicello Gilardi: "They were the most fun years of my life."