When I read that actress, singer, and former Disney Mouseketeer Annette Funicello died today at age 70, it got me thinking about how much she represented the American feminine ideal of the 1950s and early 1960s. I'm not sure if she wasn't the last of a kind -- perhaps there are a few ladies like her left out there -- but I don't believe she was any media-made fake. It is a rare person indeed who could go through the pressures of becoming an icon at the age of 12 to a whole nation of young Baby Boomers and not have some major scandal, break-down, or screw-up. By all accounts, Ms. Funicello went about her life with grace, generosity, and a positive attitude, made even more remarkable when considering that she suffered so terribly from multiple sclerosis for the last 25 years.

I was born at the very end of the Baby Boom years, so Annette was not my icon. To me, she was of a generation before me, where guys still put Brylcreem in their hair, everyone went to church every Sunday, and the only admirable ambition for girls was to become a good wife and mother. Even though her "beach movies" were being produced when I was little and I saw her on TV all the time, I wasn't looking to her or the Beach Boys or Frankie Avalon or Gidget. I was a Beatle Baby, and my female icons were Dusty Springfield and Twiggy and Marianne Faithfull -- the beautiful mod Brits, waifish and sulky and a little dangerous. I didn't want to be Annette Funicello, but she seemed like she might make a very nice older sister, if she didn't rat on me too much.

True to that ambition of the time, she married young and had her first child in 1966, and the beach was closed. It wasn't going to work having her play a virginal sweetheart anymore, and she didn't want to "spoil" her clean image by taking on more adult roles, so she didn't. She stayed at home, had two more kids, and occasionally hawked Skippy Peanut Butter. You might be a little surprised that I admire her for that; in an era of newly-awakening feminism, she was a throwback. But I do, because I think it's genuinely what she wanted to do most -- being with her family full-time was her real love and passion. Doing what you really want to do is always the best thing, changing times or anything else be damned.

Over 20 years after she shook the sand out of her exceedingly-modest '60s film bikini, she and Frankie Avalon reunited to make a good-humored parody of their beach movies, "Back To The Beach." The squeaky-clean onscreen couple grew up to have a punk rock son, of course.

Funny how things go. The Beatle Baby didn't grow up to be a sulky supermodel or a dangerous Dollybird. She grew up to be a wife and mother of three children in the suburbs, with Skippy Peanut Butter in the pantry. Chunky instead of Creamy, though.

"Bikini Beach" (1964, complete film)