07/27/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT
With her thick eyebrows, towering bouffant and rounded 5'2" frame, Funicello stood apart from the blue-eyed blondes on the beach. Yet as a preteen Mouseketeer in the mid-'50s and, later, as the symbol of Beach Party virginity, she embodied a voluptuous innocence that fueled the fantasies of a generation of adolescent males. Guided by Mousketeer Svengali Walt Disney, who forbade his most famous charge to wear bikinis or kiss her movie costars, she was the wholesome temptress in a two-piece bathing suit.
Nor were there chinks in her Italian-Catholic armor. "My life was exactly what fans saw and read about," says Funicello, 49, whose autobiography was recently rejected by a publisher for its utter lack of sensation. She did date Paul Anka, who wrote the 1960 ditty "Puppy Love" for her, and leading man Frankie Avalon, who gave her a charm bracelet inscribed TO MY BABY DOLL, ANNETTE. Not exactly enough to incite the tabloids to frenzy.
Funicello, twice married and the mother of three, ultimately chose domesticity over career but peddled peanut butter in TV commercials in the '70s and '80s. She still turns up at the occasional Mousketeer reunion and of late has been promoting a collection of teddy bears on a home-shopping channel. "I think the teens of today know so much more than we did, they have to grow up so fast," she says. "You can't remain childlike anymore. You can't look at the world with wonder in your eyes.'' Annette did, which is why she'll always be a reminder that, indeed, there was once something called puppy love.