You’d have never known it to look at her. There was talk at the Triple R Ranch, of course; the rumor was that if you were around when Annette had her bathing suit on, you might be lucky enough to see her secret passage. That was the game, anyway.
That’s right, Mouseketeers! Disney had made Annette a star, but it took Parker Brothers, the makers of Sorry! and Tell It To The Judge, to make searching for Annette’s Secret Passage a national pastime. Parker had included secret passages in previous games (Clue has two of them) but to make a young woman’s secret passage the sole focus for an entire board game was unprecedented in the 1950’s.
The game play has the ring of truth to it: first, you swim around the lake for a while (according to the rules, any number of players may occupy the lake at the same time). Then, you walk around the island. Once you’ve accomplished a complete trip around Shell Island, slip back gently into the water and wait. When it’s your turn, prepare to maneuver your piece towards Annette’s Secret Passage.
But beware! Already circling Annette’s secret passage are two vigorous, powerful, elongated, round-bodied fighters with long projecting swords. (Yellow Arrows were added to this illustration and do not appear on the original gameboard).
Worse, according to Wikipedia, is that swordfish happen to be one of the very few species with the ability to heat “selected body parts” above the temperature of the surrounding water. Thus, the question “Does Annette like swordfish?” takes on a whole new meaning in the game, which introduced many a young lad to the concept of “secret passages,” perhaps explaining why an original set in good condition commands thousands on eBay.
According to the instructions printed on Annette’s box, “Annette, Spin and Marty are on a cruise off the coast of California with Marty’s Grandmother. During the night Marty’s grandmother’s jewels were stolen! (Parker Brothers’ exclamation point). Annette thinks that whoever stole them must have escaped to the island. The next morning, with Captain Blaney’s permission, Annette, Spin and Marty decide to do some “skin diving” and “explore the island” (quotation marks mine).
A careful inspection of the entire game board reveals the entire story.
Disney knew that The Mickey Mouse Club wouldn’t last forever, and in the fall of ‘57 – around the same time the Studio was making money hand over fist from Annette’s Secret Passage – the studio announced two productions designed to carry the success of the Mouseketeers forward.
The first was a theatrical motion picture, “The Road To Oz,” featuring Annette as Ozma. Although considered a “sure thing,” the studio was curiously quiet about the project afterwards, ultimately announcing that the movie had been shelved.
The second production was a groundbreaking TV series to be based on Walt Disney’s Annette and the Mystery at Smugglers’ Cove, the Disney book that had been perched atop the Times Best Seller List for 38 consecutive weeks. The cover gives some of the plot away; Annette is sailing across Bodega Bay with a pair of lovebirds when a seagull swoops down and pecks at her forehead, drawing blood. This is the first of many inexplicable events Annette encounters as she arrives in, then tries to escape from, Smugglers’ Cove Island.
The pilot for the TV series was produced, but test audiences found it confusing and “disjointed,” something many viewers claimed Annette would have to physically have been in order to fit into the minuscule boat seen on the novel’s dust jacket.
The Disney studio would have to wait until it owned ABC Television in order to return to the project nearly five decades later, when it unexpectedly became a huge success. Alas, none of the footage from the original “Smugglers’ Cove” pilot still exists, and the episode is one of the ten “most sought after lost television shows” identified by the Library of Congress and something called The Paley Center for Media. All that survives is a single color still featuring Annette in her role as the upbeat, dancing castaway, Kate.