Wednesday, April 10, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Three women died on Monday. Margaret Thatcher, Baroness, former British Prime Minister, at 87. Annette Funicello, former Disney Mouseketeer, singer, actor, fundraiser and spokesperson for Multiple Sclerosis research--the complications of the disease contributed to her death at 70. Lilly Pulitzer, the heiress who founded a fashion empire, in her Florida home at age 81.

Not much in common, these three, you might say, other than the

fact that they all had an impact on a generation of women. (We all thought, didn't we, that when Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of Britain in 1979 that America couldn't be far behind...) But there were other similarities--they were all trendsetters, and all pretty determined to take charge of their own lives, despite pressure to the contrary.

Did any of the three making a lasting impression on you, fellow REDS?

LUCY BURDETTE: Such an interesting constellation of strong women! I definitely connected with Annette and the Mouseketeers. In fact, John and I were testing each other this week about remembering the words to that wonderful song:). The other two I've enjoyed hearing about over the last few days on NPR. Margaret Thatcher--how do you get to the point that you are so sure you're RIGHT that you will battle powerful people to the death to make sure it's done your way? As for Lilly Pulitzer, we have one of those shops in Key West and we walk by it most days to get our morning coffee. We always shake our heads and wonder who buys all that stuff. (Although I did buy the cutest pink sweater for one of the babies in our extended family...) And yet--she was so very clever to come up with something so distinctive!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, I could certainly sing the MM song. Let me know, Roberta, if you need any lyrics. I adored Horsemasters on Mickey Mouse Club, and was quite devoted. What did I learn from Annette at that age? I admit--nothing. I read this morning that she essentially gave up acting because she didn't want to play less-than-wholesome roles, so good for her--having the courage of her convictions. Speaking of which:
From Margaret Thatcher? To be tough, and stand up for yourself and your beliefs and that women can have power. And that the search for power can be life-defining. Which is...not necessarily to be desired.

And speaking of "to be desired"--Lilly! Ah, I do have some little Lilly skirts, and they are hilarious. But my favorite quote of all time, I read earlier this week. And it's worthy of the Downton's Dowager.

When Lilly Pulitzer (whose sisters were Mimsy and Flossie, really, or close to that) was told there was a fabric that couldn't be purchased for an exhibition because it was out of the budget, she said "A budget? Oh, how embarrassing."

RHYS BOWEN: It's interesting that they represent the extremes of womanhood, isn't it? The sweet innocent ingenue, the Iron lady and the flamboyant Floridian.

I regret not growing up with the Mouseketeers, because we didn't have them in England, and I lived in America while Mrs. Thatcher was PM, so I had an outsiders view of her. I certainly admired her strong stance and her insistence on being treated no differently from the boys, if I wasn't always thrilled about her politics. She was a terrific example that women could be anything they wanted, even a humble grocer's daughter.

And I had a small personal connection to Lilly Pulitzer. I was signing books in Palm Beach once when a woman put my book in front of me and said, "I'm Lilly Pulizer's personal secretary. She sent me to get a book signed by you." It was one of my author highlights along with Steve Forbes requesting on for his daughter's birthday.

HALLIE EPHRON: Oh my, Rhys, ANOTHER brush for you with royalty!!

I love the contrast: VIVE la difference. Also love the rumor that went around that Cher had died too (Twitter hashtag, #nowthatchersdead. Cher would have taken the week into a whole different dimension.

Horsemasters?? I must have been sleeping between commercials.

I wanted to be Annette. There. I said it. She was the quintessential NICE girl.

Margaret Thatcher scared me. She seemed like Agnes Trunchbull in Matilda or Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I missed the Mouseketeers, so my glimpses of Annette Funicello were from the rear-view mirror. I always think of the Beach Blanket Bingo parody done by SNL in 1978 with a young Carrie Fisher: "You got me all wrong, Annette! I'm no space slut!"

Lucy, if you want to know who buys Lilly Pulitzer: we do! Her cheerful prints are always right for summer - maybe not to the office, but who wants to think about what to wear to work in the summer? Her shifts, skirts and tunics are very female-friendly, for lack of a better word: they look adorable on a reed-slim size 2, but they also skim forgivingly over those of us who are some multiple of 2! When she heard that Pulitzer had died, the Youngest said, "Mom, I think you should buy me a new Lilly skirt as a memorial."

I went to school in London in '82-'83, and as a result, I have a harsh opinion of Lady Thatcher. She broke the spine of the British working class, decimated towns and neighborhoods in a way that hasn't been seen since the Industrial Revolution, and set the stage for Britan's present-day FIRE* economy, wherein the rich get richer and the poor get cheap Chinese-made track suits.

Okay, I'm going to take a deep breath and think about Lilly skirts.
*Finance, Insurance, Real Estate

DEBS: I never wanted to be Annette. She seemed old to me, and a little too cute, watching the Mouseketeers as a child. But it's all relative, and only now do I realize how young she was. I have to give her credit for making her own decisions and not letting herself be railroaded into the sad has-been child-star route...

I certainly never wanted to be Margaret Thatcher. Like Julia, I lived in the UK in the late seventies/early eighties, so I have a personal bias. But more than that, I've never had any desire to have public power. I can admire her for having shown that a woman, and a grocer's daughter, could realize her ambitions.

But of the three, my sentiments lie with Lilly Pulitzer. Born to wealth, married into money--and publishing royalty--she opened a juice stand in Palm Beach, and designed those first bright dresses to cover the orange juice stains on her clothes. She didn't have to work, but she was creative and determined and she made her own life. 

I never bought a Lilly Pulitzer dress, but maybe it's time I did.

What about you, readers? Did any of these women inspire you?  

PS: Prairillon, you are the winner of The Perfect Ghost. If you'll email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com with your address, I'll pass it on to Linda. Congrats! 


  1. Like many, I, too, grew up with the Mousketeers, so Annette was a pretty steady presence around our house . . . I heard on the news that she always wore one-piece bathing suits in all those beach blanket movies because Walt Disney had asked her to . . . but her courage in the face of a debilitating disease that robbed her of her ability to walk and, ultimately, of her ability to talk . . . and still she worked on behalf of research to help others similarly afflicted --- that’s courage worth emulating.

    Not having lived in England, my familiarity with Margaret Thatcher is largely relegated to the fact that she was the first woman to serve in the capacity of Prime Minister and, so say the reports, held true to her beliefs . . . I read that she’d served as Prime Minister longer than any other person in the twentieth century . . . .

    As for Lilly Pulitzer, I’d have to say that with her bright, colorful floral print dresses she certainly had an eye for style . . . and a knack for making her life her own.

    Perhaps the commonality shared by all three of these women was that they believed in being true to themselves, to what they believed, to what they held important, to what they themselves could be. Not a bad message for any of us . . . .

  2. Well, my goodness. I never heard of Lilly Pulitzer, her shop, or her skirts. Which probably attests to my shopping aversion. But if Julia is right about her fashions fitting over the multiple-of-two figure, I might have to check it out. Weren't we just talking about new spring clothes?

    So funny, Hallie, that you wanted to be Annette. I think I did, too, but in the future. These days the only thing I can remember wanting to be when I grew up was wanting to be a teenager! And Annette was just enough older than I to make that work.

  3. Hank, did the Horsemasters bit star Spin and Marty? Because they were my favorites from that show. I was a little creeped out by the clearly-older "teenagers" wearing giant mouse ears. "Jimmy", in particular. Annette was one of those girls who always looked older; which is no doubt why she was the fantasy girl of a generation of boys, including both my husbands.

    In the 70's during the pink and green heyday I had friends who could actually afford to buy Lilly Pulitzer, so I was very familiar. It never appealed to me, so much. However, I have two pieces of cute cotton print, one in pinks, the other in aquas/turquoise, that remind me so much of the LP prints. I keep meaning to make a couple summer skirts with them. Maybe this is the year.

    As for Margaret Thatcher, I was never much aware of her politics, but I admired her for stepping into a role no woman before or since has had. I've been taken to task for that admiration on Facebook this week, though, by friends who were better informed of what her politics were, and how focused she was on certain issues. For instance, she refused to condemn apartheid in South Africa, which still rankles among some groups. I had no idea.

  4. I didn't wear pink and green as a teenager, but am now in my "pink and green" phase. Anyone who knows me can attest to my thing for lime green.

    At least it's not mouse ears...

  5. Oh! Spin and Marty I watched. They were cute.

    I agree, Karen, Jimmy seemed a little creepy. And what about Roy?

  6. Like Edith, I've never heard of Lily Pulitzer or her clothes. Must be a west coast thing for me.

    I think I respected Margaret Thatcher, even if I didn't like her or her politics. And I appreciate what she was able to do with her life. It brings up an important question: do we always need to like our role models? I think sometimes they're role models because we want to prove them wrong.

  7. Yesterday's winner of Linda Barnes's The Perfect Ghost is "prairillon." If you'll email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com with your mailing address, I'll pass it along to Linda. Congrats!

  8. I wish I had something profound to add and to say about these women, I feel badly, really, that I don't.

    I wasn't a big Annette fan, never a fan of Mrs. Thatcher who I think was an egotistical bully, and although I admit to loving pink and green even when it's not in style, could never afford Lily. (But I did post a Pink Lily Bicycle picture on my Facebook page this morning - how it ended up for sale in Boone, NC would be an interesting story, I feel sure).

    Is it awful of me to admit I would have been really really devastated if the Tweet about Cher dying had been true? I can't help it - I think she's just cool as grits.

  9. Kaye, I LOVE that bike!!!!!!!!!!! You should find out if it has a story.

  10. The Iron Lady - oh please. Let's not even go there. Except...

    Lilly Pulitzer. Who?

    Annette. Aaahh, Annette. When I didn't want to be Annette, I wanted her for my best friend. I know my brother was in love with her. I loved her in all those Disney tv movies (The Horsemasters, Spin and Marty, Annette, etc) I had Whitman shiny-covered books: Annette - Sierra Summer; Annette - Mystery at Moonstone Bay. Etc.

    Why yes, I was born in 1950.

  11. I didn't aspire to be Annette, only to be half as popular and confident as she was on the Mousketeers. Margaret Thatcher always made me think of a large, sharp-toothed rodent. I didn't know Lilly Pulitzer's story, but I like the image of the deb opening a fruit juice stand and morphing it into a personal brand just for the fun of it. If you have a vision, much better to have one about making cheerful clothes than breaking labor unions, I say!

  12. Just to be clear, LP's was no lemonade stand. She OWNED orange groves.

  13. I grew up with Annette. Wasn't a big fan of her as a kid, but I respected her adult life a great deal.

    I've never been a fan of Margaret Thatcher. I'm a longtime feminist, but the decisions Thatcher made were hell for women, children, families, the poor, the working class, and ultimately the middle class. And she forced them on the UK with the power-mad force of any male bully. Not a role model for women in my book.

    I was not familiar with Lilly Pulitzer, but I'm not a fashion-maven type (as those of you who've seen me in real life will know). She sounds pretty neat, though. I respect wealthy women who could live lives of leisure and decide to do something constructive with their lives instead.

  14. *snap!* Yes, Roy!

    Beyond creepy.


  15. IMO -- Thatcher is the only one of the trio who made a lasting contribution to society. I didn't agree with her politics, but as another grocer's daughter, I was thrilled to see her succeed in a man's world. Maggie's courage is what we will remember.

  16. Hallie, That's just it - that the bored housewife who opened the fruit stand owned the whole orchard and still chose to sell juice by the quart. In th parlance of the times, kooky!

  17. M-I-C, see you real soon!
    K-E-Y, why? because we like you!

    I watched the Mickey Mouse Club during its after-school syndication runs (1970s), and to me, Annette was the perfect older sister/babysitter type. Mostly, I came to admire her later for the way she handled her MS.

    And Thatcher? OK, so I've always been down on her because of her politics. Sad to say, but Ms. Meryl's portrayal of her in the movie brought home to me just how strong and significant Thatcher was as a symbol of what women can do--and ought to be allowed to do. I admire her much more now that I think about her outside of her political leanings.

    I like the picture of the Lilly Pulitzer dress...Am I out of touch for not really know who she was? :-)

  18. I loved Annette, but she was "older" than I, and a bit of a goody-goody. I watched a YouTube of her doing a Toe-shoe ballet to a song that Jimmy Dodd wrote for her, called -- "Annette". It was sort of weird.

    I discovered Lilly Pulitzer clothes as an adult when we stayed in some ritzy resort. I was taken with the bright prints and styles, but I don't own any. I don't even know anywhere around home where I could buy them. I loved the story about her though.

    Ms. Thatcher just raises my blood-pressure. Like Deb, I thought that she was the beginning of a regular female presence as world leaders - like in the US, duh? Of course, I also thought that because of Golda Meir.

  19. I try to avoid politics and discussions about them at all cost

    watched the mousketeers growing up, best part of show was when they ran a cartoon :)

    Lilly Pulitzer, truthfully never heard of her, or if I did, didn't read about her until her death...and was impressed as to what she did, having to need to work, she got out there and worked, did what she wanted......

    I love, love the dress pictures, pink/white/lime green.....If I ever lose this weight, I would love to have that dress or one very like it, looks so summery

  20. My first mother-in-law, the wonderful Mimsy, bought me the cutest little Lily shift--pink with green edging. She said every girl needs a pink and green dress. So, so sweet of her.