Monday, April 08, 2013

The Ozma We Never Had

Today, Annette Funicello died. When we told my father, he was sorry to hear it, but knew that it was inevitable. She had been battling multiple sclerosis for many years, and complications with it had caused her to lose her ability to walk and eventually her ability to speak.

After living in her native home of Utica, New York, Annette and her family crossed country to southern California where she lived the rest of her life.

During a ballet recital, one Walt Disney was struck by her talent and arranged for Annette to audition for The Mickey Mouse Show, a role she eventually won.

Annette shot to stardom when she sang a song during a serial on The Mickey Mouse Club called "How Will I Know My Love?" The song garnered such a response that Annette was asked to record it as a single, which led to her being one of the first young female singers to appear on a Disney label as a solo artist. This led to her having a recording contract, where she recorded such hits as "Tall Paul," "O Dio Mio," "Pineapple Princess" and "Dream Boy."

Annette also appeared in many films for Disney, starting as the girl next door Allison in The Shaggy Dog to Mary Quite Contrary in Disney's Babes in Toyland and Jennifer in The Misadventures of Merlin Jones and The Monkey's Uncle. She ventured outside of Disney to star in the Beach Party films (Walt himself approved of her involvement in the first one).

As Annette grew up, she withdrew from show business, focusing on her family life. Unlike a number of other popular starlets, she divorced only once and remained married to her second husband until her death.

As a child growing up in the 1990s, one might not expect me to be so familiar with Annette. As our intake of media was highly restricted, we often turned to my father's collection of vinyl records and video tapes. Among the records was Annette's album The Story of My Teens and a single of the song "Merlin Jones." My father picked up copies of Babes in Toyland and VHS tapes of The Mickey Mouse Club, and later, I managed to get him VHS tapes of the "Merlin Jones" series. Finally, he managed to get her compilation album Annette: A Musical Reunion with America's Girl-Next-Door.

He also read to me her autobiography, A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes, and here is where Oz comes in. It was here for the first time that I heard of an abandoned Disney project titled The Rainbow Road to Oz, and how Annette was cast in the role of Ozma, a role she loved due to the hair extensions as part of her costume.

Probably most blog readers know that The Rainbow Road to Oz was shelved during pre-production, but a teaser featuring three songs was presented as the finale piece of the Disneyland Fourth Anniversary Show in 1957, a year before "How Will I Know My Love?" became a hit. Among the costumed Oz characters was Annette as Ozma, dancing and taking part in the song "The Oz-Kan Hop."

 It's important to remember that this was preliminary and Annette was likely not wearing the final Ozma costume. A costume design from the Disney archives reveals that the studio was aiming for an approach lifted from the classic John R. Neill design.
However, the Fourth Anniversary Show itself shows a different concept image for Ozma:
As the script for the film was never even finalized, we'll never know what Annette would have looked like in the finished film.

Ozma also appears during the finale of the show, dancing with Mousketeers and Oz characters as they sing the joyous song "The Rainbow Road to Oz."
Back, left to right: Scarecrow, Dorothy, Zeb, Ozma
Front, left to right: Polychrome, Button-Bright, Scraps
Given the entire preliminary piece, I'm sure that a fully-realized Rainbow Road to Oz under Walt's supervision would have been spectacular. But for whatever reason, it just never happened, and we got to see Annette as Ozma only this one time.
Finally, here below is the entire Rainbow Road to Oz segment from the Disneyland Fourth Anniversary Show.


Sam said...

I'm sorry for the loss of one of your favourite stars, Jared ... this is actually the first and most I've read about her of all.

You can see a change and difference in the two Ozma concept arts side by side (crown, wand, face, slight costume), but I prefer the more Neill version (she looks a bit vain in the other one and I don't think the glittery wand is practical).

Maybe now she's finally dancing up and skipping on the Rainbow Road to Oz with Walt Disney . . .

Anonymous said...

I think the 1961 BABES IN TOYLAND (whichalso starred Ray Bolger) was what eventually became the substitute 'Oz' Disney film starring Annette.

Jim Meadows said...

I watched these clips with great enjoyment, having only read about them up to now (in Allen Eyles' "The World Of Oz", a book tie-in with Disney's "Return To Oz" movie). After seeing the sample musical numbers, I can see why the Mouseketeer-Oz movie never got made. Despite their charm, I don't think the performances, or the songs used, would have been strong enough for a major motion picture. But it's fun to see how Disney was mixing the Oz elements together, in search of a good film project.