OPINION – We lost a couple of iconic women this week, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and actress Annette Funicello.
One was beloved, the other bedeviled.
Baby boomers remember Funicello from her days as one of the original Mouseketeers, then in co-starring roles with teen idol Frankie Avalon in a series of beach party films. Her talents were marginal, as she freely acknowledged. “I have a thin, three-note voice,” she often said, and the dialog in her film roles was always fairly limited.
But, she had charm and grace. She also had a very special, charismatic way of looking into a camera, whether in the role as one of the Mouseketeers, America’s favorite beach bunny, or as TV spokeswoman for peanut butter.
She was beloved.
Thatcher, on the other hand, was not.
How she was viewed was pretty well summed up in how the British newspapers announced her death. The conservative Daily Mail declared: “The Woman Who Saved Britain.” The liberal Daily Mirror called her: “The Woman Who Divided A Nation.”
They called her “The Iron Lady” because she was tough as nails. She went nose-to-nose with Communism and the British coal miners’ union. She allowed jailed IRA soldiers to starve to death in a British jail, stopped a free milk program for British school children, and, oh, yes, there was that little incursion to wrest control of The Falklands from the Argentine — pronounced AR-gen-tyne, thank you veddy, veddy, much — and was President Ronald Reagan’s best friend among world leaders.
I was not a fan of her politics — from her awkward, backward social policies to her nasty attitudes toward apartheid, and neither were my friends from across the pond who were less than charitable in their Facebook postings at the news of her death.
But, she was still a role model for women, rising from humble beginnings to a position of enviable power on the world stage.
Funicello, in her own way, was also a role model. Unlike latter-day Mouseketeers like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, her career was never propelled by scandal. She didn’t have to flash body parts or go into rehab to grab headlines. And, although her movies were fairly vapid, they entertained a generation of film-goers who were into that sort of light fare.
These two women were so well known that they reached the elevated stage of being recognized simply by their first names. All you had to do was say “Annette” or “Maggie” and, immediately, people knew who you were talking about.
They were both fairly conservative, Thatcher with her politics and Funicello with her Disney upbringing, and that’s OK. Thatcher proved that a woman with courage and strength could take on the political boy’s club and Funicello proved to be a sharp businesswoman with a line of collectible teddy bears and perfume, as well as her Skippy peanut butter endorsement. She also was known as a philanthropist, raising money for research into multiple sclerosis, which took her life.
They were also survivors.
English politics is a tough gig. Thatcher became a Member of Parliament in 1959. She became Secretary of State for Education in 1970. In 1975 she won the Conservative Party leadership and in 1979 embarked on an unprecedented and unduplicated 11-year run as prime minister.
Funicello? She was one of the few child stars to emerge unscathed, especially among those who were of the various generations of Mouseketeers plagued by drug, booze, and other problems.
There will be those who say they came up during simpler times, but I’m not buying any of that. There has never been a simple time in the history of mankind and, well, women still find it difficult to find a level playing field in a world that is still pretty much dominated by men.
I mean, a man who is tough and aggressive? He’s thought of as tough. A woman with the same qualities? You and I both know the term used to describe them.
Funny, but I would have never put these two together in the same thought, but fate sort of took care of that. And, although I liked one and disliked the other, I see a thread of strength there that cannot be denied.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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