Musical Monday: “Muscle Beach Party” (1964)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

muscle-beach-party-movie-poster-1964-1020144107This week’s musical:
Muscle Beach Party” –Musical #298

Studio:
American International Pictures

Director:
William Asher

Starring:
Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, John Ashley, Don Rickles, Jody McCrea (son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee), Dick Dale, Donna Loren, Candy Johnson, Morey Amsterdam, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Hackett, Peter Lorre, Luciana Paluzzi, Peter Lupus

Plot:
Frankie (Avalon) and Dee Dee (Funicello) head to the beach for Easter vacation with their friends to surf, dance and have fun. Once they get to the beach they meet Jack Fanny (Rickles) and his group of muscle bound body builders. When Contessa Julie (Paluzzi) can’t woo Flex (Lupus), she tries to steal Frankie from Dee Dee.
Cheesy gags, music and dancing are sprinkled throughout the plot line.

Trivia:
-Stevie Wonder was 13 when he appeared in this film and was billed as “Little Stevie Wonder.”
-“Muscle Beach Party” cost $300,000 to make and grossed $12 million, according to The Encyclopedia of Surfing by Matt Warshaw
-The second beach movie directed by William Asher, following “Beach Party” (1964). This film was followed by “Bikini Beach” (1964), “Beach Blanket Bingo” (1965) and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini ” (1965), all directed by Asher.
-The only beach movie that doesn’t feature Eric Von Zipper and his gang.
-Don Rickles film debut.
-Larry Scott, the body builder who played Rock, was an actual bodybuilder and was the first Mr. Olympia.

Muscle men in "Muscle Beach Party" (Comet Over Hollywood/Screen capped by Jessica P)

Muscle men in “Muscle Beach Party” (Comet Over Hollywood/Screen capped by Jessica P)

-Peter Lorre died two days after this film was released.
-In all of the beach movies, Annette Funicello wore more conservative bathing suits. That was out of her respect to Walt Disney who asked her to keep up a clean image, Funicello said in an interview.
-Donna Loren was signed to a multi-picture deal. The heads of American International were impressed with her duet with Dick Dale, Drive-In Dream Girls: A Galaxy of B-Movie Starlets of the Sixties by Tom Lisanti.
-During one scene, Peter Lorre and Frankie Avalon say the other looks familiar. This is a joke referencing their previous film they made together, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (1961).
-Most of the beach films only took two weeks to make, according to Beyond the Stars 2: Plot Conventions in American Popular Film edited by Paul Loukides, Linda K. Fuller

Frankie and Annette "surfing" in "Muscle Beach Party" (Comet Over Hollywood/Screen capped by Jessica P.)

Frankie and Annette “surfing” in “Muscle Beach Party” (Comet Over Hollywood/Screen capped by Jessica P.)

Highlights:
-Cartoon opening credits
-Surfing footage, especially when we are supposed to believe the stars are surfing.
-Candy Johnson’s 1960s dancing in her tasseled outfits
-Guitarist Dick Dale performing
-Cheesy humor like a cartoon cupid playing a harp beside Luciana Paluzzi as she’s looking at the bodybuilders.

Credits with Candy Johnson dancing and Stevie Wonder dancing:

Notable Songs:
-Muscle Bustle performed by Donna Loren and Dick Dale
-Happy Street performed by Stevie Wonder
-A Boy Needs a Girl sung by Annette Funicello (I noted this because it’s Annette’s only solo. It’s not her best song ever and ends abruptly, but worth noting). Reprised later by Frankie Avalon
-Muscle Beach Party sung by Dick Dale and the Del Tones
-Runnin’ Wild sung by Frankie Avalon

Jody McCrea (Joel McCrea's son), Dick Dale, John Ashley, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in "Muscle Beach Party"

Jody McCrea (Joel McCrea’s son), Dick Dale, John Ashley, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in “Muscle Beach Party”

My Review:
I’m always surprised how Frankie and Annette end up together at the end of each film when she has to win him back from another girl.
So obviously none of the beach films have a serious, ground breaking plot and “Muscle Beach Party” isn’t excluded. All the silly plots also all occasionally blend together.
However, they are a great deal of fun. The outfits are great, the music is awesome and the dancing sequences on the beach are my favorite (especially if it involves Candy Johnson and Donna Loren). It’s a great snapshot of culture in the early 1960s. And Annette is one of my favorites so I can’t hate any of her films.
Compared to several of the films, I would say “Muscle Beach Party,” “Beach Party” and “Beach Blanket Bingo” are my three favorites.
So if you are looking for brainless, RIDICULOUS, hair-brained fun, check out this film…or any other beach movie.

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“Now it’s time to say goodbye”: Remembering Annette Funicello

Just thinking about her makes me smile.

annette funicello 2

Annette Funicello

Annette Funicello has always been a source of happiness in my household. Her films, the Annette mystery book series, her music- she has always been a favorite of the Pickens’ family.

Though I didn’t grow up in the 1960s, I grew up with Annette. My mom was a huge fan so I was introduced to “The Shaggy Dog” (1959) and “Babes in Toyland” (1961) at a young age.

“I had Annette books, coloring books and paper dolls growing up,” my mom, Lisa Pickens, said. “I really liked her a lot. Since she was only in movies while she was young, we didn’t see her age. There was something special about Annette.”

Annette was an original Mousketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. She autographed a photo for me in 2008

Annette was an original Mousketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. She autographed a photo for me in 2008

Even in the past two years, summer afternoons were spent downloading her songs on iTunes and watching old Mickey Mouse Club episodes and the Annette series. In the serial Annette was a “country cousin” who moves to the city to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle.

“Throughout all the years we were friends she never changed from that sweet person who cared so much about others,” said Mousketeeer Sharon Baird, on the Official Disney Fan Club. “She always had time for everyone; family, friends and fans alike. It’s no wonder she was America’s sweetheart.”

In the 1950s, Annette Funicello stood out as a Mousketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. Her background was Italian and she looked different than the other, Anglo-Saxon children.

She even suggested that she change her last name to “something more American,” but Walt Disney disagreed, saying her own name made her more unique, according to IMDB.

And her uniqueness is what made her the most popular of the original Mousketeers.

“The Disney studio wasn’t like other studios. It was just like home – it always had a small-town, family atmosphere,” she said.
Along with The Mickey Mouse Club, Annette starred in Disney films such as “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” (1964) and “Babes in Toyland.”

Her fame brought her to recording career, with records like “Hawiaannette,” “Itallianette” and “Danceannette,” but Miss Funicello didn’t think she could sing.

“The Sherman Brothers wrote a song for me for the Annette series called ‘How Will I Know My Love,’” she said in an interview. “They told me we have to put this on a single. People are writing us like crazy wanting to buy it. I told them I don’t sing. And they said, ‘Well I’m signing you to a recording contact, young lady.’ And I said yes sir, and that’s what started my singing career.”

Composer Tutti Camarata was the one who created “The Annette Sound.” This is where she would sing the song once. She then would listen to the song with headphones, while trying to sing along as exact as she could, she said.

“It gave me that larger sound that I needed, because my voice is very small with a range of about of three notes,” she laughed. “It worked. I think my favorite song was ‘Pineapple Princess.’ I was lucky enough to have five songs that made the Top 10.”

Stevie Wonder, early in his career, with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in "Muscle Beach"

Stevie Wonder, early in his career, with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in “Muscle Beach”

Annette was also one of the first performers to sing with the Beach Boys as they were growing in fame.

“I really shouldn’t put down my singing career, because I’m so appreciative of everything that came my way,” she said.

In interviews and in her autobiography “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” Annette seems like somebody you would run in to at the store. Annette was sweet and down to Earth, making her more relatable for her fans.

With Tommy Sands in "Babes in Toyland"

With Tommy Sands in “Babes in Toyland”

Even while she was in movies, her father still worked at a gas station, and Annette wasn’t allowed to date until she was 16, according to her New York Times obituary.

In real life, she stayed friends with fellow teen stars Frankie Avalon, Shelley Fabres and fellow Mousketeers Doreen Tracey and Cheryl Holdridge, who passed away in 2009. She was good friends with Jimmy Dodd from the Mickey Mouse Club until his death in 1964.

While she was 21-years-old and still under contract at Disney, she was approached about roles in beach films. Walt Disney approved Annette doing the films as long as she didn’t show her belly button in bathing suits, according to the New York Times.

These films included the silly, but fun, “Beach Blanket Bingo” (1965) and “Beach Party (1963).

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in "Beach Party"

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in “Beach Party”

Annette retired from films, only making a few appearances, after she married her first husband in 1965 to raise her family.

“She was always there for car pools, Hot Dog Day and the P.T.A,” her daughter said in 1994.

After they divorced, she remarried in 1986 to Glen Holt. They remained married until she passed away.

Annette returned for a few appearances in the 1980s including “Back to the Beach” (1987) with Frankie Avalon, and an appearance on the TV Show “Full House” where Michelle pronounced her last name as “Funny-Jello.”

It was in 1987, she learned she had Multiple Sclerosis and established the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.

Miss Funicello passed away today at the age of 70, and the world seems a little dimmer.

“Everyone who knew Annette, loved and respected her,” said Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Miller.  “She was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, and was always so kind to everyone. She was also the consummate professional and had such great loyalty to my father. Annette will always be very special to me.”

Rest in peace, Annette. You will always remain in our hearts as you chant “Meeska-Mooska-Mouseketeer” and surf the beaches of California.

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Tyrone Power Santa: Merry Christmas from Comet

Merry Christmas! 

A Christmas card from me to you. Screencapped from Summer Place by Me

A Christmas card from me to you. Screencapped from Summer Place by Me

With some help from my coworkers at the Shelby Star, I recorded a Christmas Eve video for everyone.

As my present to all of you, here is an anecdote I found from the official Tyrone Power page: King of 20th Century Fox.  David Niven tells how Tyrone Power plays Santa at a children’s Christmas party (sadly I have no photos): 

One Christmas I gave a party for my two small sons, and Tyrone Power offered to play Santa Claus. He lived a few blocks from me, and I went over to help him dress and brief him on the impending operation.

He was extremely nervous.

“This is worse than a first night on Broadway,” he said, helping himself liberally to the scotch bottle. “I’ve never performed for a bunch of kids before.”

I pushed and pulled him into the padded stomach, bulky red outfit, and high black boots rented from Western Costume Company and helped him fasten on a black belt, a huge white beard, and little red cap.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s all fixed. I’ve left the gate open at the bottom of the garden. I’ve rigged up some sleigh bells down there and stashed away the presents, and at exactly six o’clock we’ll give ‘em the bells; then you pick up the sack and make it up the lawn to the house — they’re all expecting you.”

After discovering he would be entertaining 50 children- including the offspring of Gary Cooper, Rosalind Russell, the Fairbanks’, Deborah Kerr, Loretta Young, Charles Boyer, Edgar Bergen and Jerry Lewis- Ty was drinking a great deal of scotch.

During the five minute drive to the party Ty begged me to let him off the hook.

“Why don’t you do it? he asked. “It’s your party.”

“You suggested it,” I said firmly.

By six o’clock Santa Claus was loaded; sack on shoulder and hidden in some bushes at the bottom of my garden.

“Off you go,” I said to Ty. “Lots of luck!”

When he was spotted by the excited children, shrill shrieks and applause broke out. At that point I had intended to turn on the garden lights to illuminate the scene but for some reason I missed the switch and turned on the sprinklers. Ty fell down. He picked himself up, gave me a marked look and squelched on toward the shining, expectant faces in the windows.

Like all actors, once the curtain was up and the adrenaline had started pumping, Ty was relaxed and happy in his work.

“HO! HO! HO!” he boomed.  “And who is this lovely woolly lamb for, eh? Candace Bergen. Come here, little girl. HO! HO! HO!”

He was doing beautifully by the time I had sneaked in by the back door, seated in a big chair in the hall with excited children climbing all over him.

“Maria Cooper! My, what a pretty girl! HO! HO! HO! You tell your daddy that old Santa thought he was just dandy in High Noon and ask him for Grace Kelly’s phone number while you’re about it. HO! HO! HO!”

Maria Cooper was a little more sophisticated than the other children. “Where did you see the picture, Santa?” she asked sweetly.

“Oh,” said Ty, pointing vaguely above him, “Up there!”

After a while Santa made his good-byes and staggered off down the lawn. Some of the children cried when he left.

Back at the bottom of the garden, I helped him out of his outfit. He was as excited as if he had just given a triumphant Broadway performance of King Lear.

“I really enjoyed that!” he said. “Weren’t the kids a great audience?” 

And Merry Christmas from one of my favorites- Annette Funicello

And Merry Christmas from one of my favorites- Annette Funicello

 

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The story of Tommy Kirk

Tommy Kirk in “Old Yeller”

You may have seen him turning into a sheepdog on “The Shaggy Dog,” tragically killing his dog in “Old Yeller” or as the know-it-all brother in “Swiss Family Robinson.”

Life for fresh faced, slightly goofy Tommy Kirk seemed sunny in those 1950s movies at Walt Disney Studios. He was one of the studio’s top stars and even was part of the Mickey Mouse Club in the “Hardy Boy” series with Tim Considine. He was wholesome, clean cut and quirky-things that easily won over Disney audiences.

But as Kirk grew out of those kid roles in the early 1960s, life started to drastically change. Like most child stars, the transition from family movies to teen movies can be difficult. Studios and audiences don’t like you because you aren’t as cute and are going through the awkward years of growing up. However, it’s harder for a child star when they are gay.

It was becoming apparent that adult Tommy Kirk was gay and this didn’t fit into Walt Disney’s family friendly, perfect studio.

Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine in Mickey Mouse Club’s “Hardy Boys”

“Even more than MGM, Disney [in the early 1960s] was the most conservative studio in town. They were growing aware. They weren’t stupid. They could add two and two, and I think they were beginning to suspect my homosexuality,” Kirk said. “I noticed people in certain quarters were getting less and less friendly. In 1963 Disney didn’t renew my option and let me go. But Walt let me return to do the final Merlin Jones movie, ‘The Monkey’s Uncle,’ because those were moneymakers for the studio.” (Taken from IMDB)

Kirk said his teen years were a very unhappy time for him.  He had also been marked as box office poison after movies like “Village of Giants” (1965) and “Mars Needs Women” (1967).  Kirk’s career could have been saved by a potential role in “The Sons of Katie Elder” (1965) with John Wayne. Unfortunately, he went to a party where people were smoking marijuana. The party was busted, Kirk was arrested and newspapers printed “Ex- Disney Child Star Arrested for Pot.” He was fired from the film.

Not only was his career floundering, but once he accepted he was gay, he had no way to meet people or express himself.

“I knew I was gay, but I had no outlet for my feelings. It was very hard to meet people and, at that time, there was no place to go to socialize,” Kirk said. “It wasn’t until the early sixties that I began to hear of places where gays congregated. When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to change. I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I had the definite feeling that it was going to wreck my Disney career and maybe my whole acting career.

Eventually, I became involved with somebody and I was fired. Disney was a family film studio and I was supposed to be their young, leading man. After they found out I was involved with someone, that was the end of Disney.” (Taken from IMDB)

Though Kirk’s acting career went into the mid and late 1960s when codes and morals were beginning to loosen, there was no way for him to portray a gay man on screen as some actors in the pre-code 1920s and 1930s had the freedom to do.

Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello. The two starred in several films together including “Pajama Party”

Quite on the opposite side, Kirk was in highly heterosexual all-American teenage romance beach films.  In “Pajama Party” (1964) with Annette Funicello, Kirk plays a Martian that doesn’t understand romance or how to woo women. Funicello’s character teaches the Martian-named Go Go- how to show affection in order to make her boyfriend jealous. Teaching Kirk how to romance a woman in a film almost makes me wonder if it was a jab at him.

Kirk quit acting by the early 1970s, saying that he got sick of it and stopped. He now runs a carpet and upholstery cleaning business, according to IMDB.

For a child star who struggled so much, Tommy Kirk is really forgotten today. Books like “Screen World Presents: Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors” mentions in the last few sentences about his career, “It was not until years later that Kirk was fired after word got out about his homosexuality.”

Other books like “Queering Teen Culture” by Jeffery Dennis don’t discuss the hurt or ruin that Kirk experienced. The book mainly seems to focus on the silly roles he was in and how overly sexual the males were in beach movies.

For somebody that stared in most of the live action Disney classics, you don’t hear anything about him. I wonder if it has to do with Disney still trying to keep appearances.

From interviews I’ve seen in recent years, Tommy Kirk seems to be bitter from the experience. I can’t say that I blame him.

It’s heartbreaking that such a bright young Disney star fell down so hard.

This is part of the “Queer Blogathon” hosted by Garbo Laughs

This is for the Queer Blog-a-thon hosted by Garbo Laughs. The blog-a-thon focuses on portrayals of gays, lesbians, trans-gender in classic film for LBGT month.

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Star Collector

anita
Anita Page in the 1920’s. At one point she had more fan mail than Greta Garbo.

Not only am I old-fashioned in my movie tastes, but I am also pretty passe as a movie fan.

I write fan mail.

You may be thinking, “Who does that anymore?” A surprising amount do continue to write to stars like Debbie Reynolds, Tony Curtis and Elizabeth Taylor. No one writes the stars of today, though, like Angelina Jolie, Orlando Bloom or Jennifer Aniston. Why is this? Because they won’t answer…that is if you can even find an address to write to.

I get my fan mail addresses from an autograph database called StarTiger.com. On the website you can search virtually any movie star, singer or sports player. Each star has their own profile page. On this page there is a list of addresses that you can contact them.

Users comments on the address and rate them with success ratings on if they received an autograph, how fast it was returned or they note if they got an answer at all. There are messages boards for each address where autograph hunters tell what they sent (such as a self-addressed, stamped envelope with two 4×6 photos) and what they got back (such as they signed one picture and left the other unsigned).

I discovered Star Tiger in 8th grade in 2003 for keyboarding class where we were practicing our letter writing skills by writing to famous people. At the time the website was known as Star Archives and was free (users now have to pay a monthly fee). While the rest of my class chose famous rappers like 50 cent and actresses like Sandra Bullock, 14-year-old Jessica Pickens of course chose Doris Day.

This was the first of many fan letters I ever wrote. I wrote to Doris about how much I loved her movies, how she brightened my day and that I used her as a role model to try to keep a sunny disposition. A few weeks after sending off the letter, I was the only student in the class to receive an autographed picture and a nice letter from Ms. Day inviting me to donate money towards her animal foundation.

After this I made lists of stars I wanted to write. Since then I have sent off fan letters twice; sophomore year of high school sophomore year of college.

Unfortunately, there are mournful times when I have to cross a name off a list when a star dies. Some instances have been with June Allyson in July 2006, Cyd Charisse in June 2008 and Kathryn Grayson in February 2010.

Writing fan letters to 70, 80 and 90-year-old movie stars might seem greedy. I will admit that part of it is selfish. I want autographs and to be part of that classic film culture and era, but that isn’t all of it. I want classic stars to know that they are still thought about. That their films are still watched, that they are still loved and a young lady in Greenville, S.C. really looks up to them.

I am showing that I appreciate the stars with my fan mail. The classic actors also show that they appreciate me by responding with autographs. Classic film actors REALIZE that they way they became movie stars is through their fans watching their movies and reading about them in the fan magazines.

Joan Crawford might have a bad reputation from that book of lies “Mommy Dearest” by Christine Crawford. However, Crawford knew she was famous because of her fans and answered each piece of fan mail personally, according to Divas the Site.

Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford signing autographs. Photo taken by Clarence Sinclair Bull in 1933

I’ve also read accounts of people who have seen stars like Van Johnson or Walter Pidgeon who happily stop and sign autographs.
Van
Van Johnson with fans.

Fans used to confuse Lana Turner and Betty Grable, and when either was approached and mistaken for the other, they would sign autographs with the other’s name rather than getting angry and yelling at the fans.

Grable lana
Betty Grable and Lana Turner sometimes were confused because of their platinum locks.

It’s hard for movie viewers of today to hear things like this while the movie stars of today are not as accomodating. In fact they are the opposite. They run from autograph seekers, scream if you call them the wrong name and do not answer fan mail.

Today’s celebrities need to realize that they would be nothing without their fans.

Autographs in order that they were recieved:

1. Doris Day (My first autograph in 8th grade)

doris2

2. Deanna Durbin

3. Esther Williams

4. June Allyson (signed notecard. I was going to send a letter with a picture but she died before I got the chance)

5. Vera Miles, along with a nice note

Vera Picture Vera Letter

6. Annette Funicello (One of my favorites. She signed it herself, which was a great surprise and treat because since she has MS I had heard her husband signed them)

Annette

7. Joan Fontaine

8. Lauren Bacall

9. Ann Blyth

10. Jane Powell

11. Joan Leslie (so sweet and added cardboard to back her picture)

12. Elizabeth Taylor

13. Paul Newman (shortly before his death)

Paul

14. Shirley Temple- sent 2 pictures; one young and one teenaged signed both.
Shirley young Shirley old

15. Van Johnson- again shortly before his death

16. Debbie Reynolds

17. Julie Andrews- pre-signed. I have read she is the worst person for autographs

18. Maureen O’Hara- A real treat and a hard person to contact. Autograph came from Ireland!

Maureen

19. Audrey Totter

20. Doris Day- I wrote her again.

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