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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini– Musical #291
Studio: American International Pictures
Director: William Asher
Annette Funicello, Dwayne Hickman, Brian Donlevy, Buster Keaton, Frankie Avalon, Beverly Adams, Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Mickey Rooney, Michael Nadar, Sheila MacRae, Marianne Gordon, Len Lesser, Bobbi Shaw, Stephanie Nader, Sue Hamilton (as Sue Williams), Michele Carey (uncredited)
Themselves: The Kingsmen
Cameo: Elizabeth Montgomery
While Frankie (Avalon) is away in the Navy on an island, he worries Dee Dee (Funicello) is being as unfaithful as he is. He works with witch doctor Bwana (Keaton) to use magic to spy on Dee Dee to see if she’s faithful. Bwana also creates a sexy distraction, Cassandra (Adams), to keep all the boys away from her. Advertising representatives Peachy Keane (Rooney) and Ricky (Hickman) arrive on the beach to pick an all American girl for their ad campaign with B.D. MacPherson (Donlevy) to change the image of motorcycles, and Ricky falls for Dee Dee.
• The last beach film to star Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
• During the filming of “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini,” Annette was pregnant with her daughter Gina.
• Tommy Kirk was originally supposed to co-star with Annette Funicello, but he was replaced by Dwayne Hickman. Shortly before filming started, Kirk was arrested for marijuana possession, according to the book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969 by Thomas Lisanti
• Elizabeth Montgomery makes a cameo as Buster Keaton’s daughter.
Michele Carey’s first film role.
• The clay title sequence was designed by Gumby creator Art Clokey
• Lu Ann Simms dubbed Irene Tsu
• Annette Funicello’s songs
• Elizabeth Montgomery’s cameo
• “Better Be Ready” performed by Annette Funicello
• “The Perfect Boy” performed by Annette Funicello
• “Give Her Lovin'” performed by The Kingsmen
• “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” performed by the cast
• “That’s What I Call a Healthy Girl” performed by John Ashley
Following the response of the Gidget-inspired surf craze, American International Pictures launched a series of carefree “beach party” teen films starring Disney star Annette Funicello and teen singer Frankie Avalon.
Two years after the first film, “Beach Party” (1963), was released, the series ended with “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.”
“How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” is considered one of the worst in the series of six beach party films. And that may not be far from the truth, but I also find it really interesting because it’s different than the others.
One thing that makes “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” is the absence of Frankie Avalon, though that is part of the plot. He’s away in the Navy surrounded by native women, but still worried his girl Annette is going to cheat. Annette, who was pregnant in real life, isn’t interested in the men around her and also doesn’t seem very interested in the role. She wrote in her autobiography that this was her least favorite of the beach films.
Dwayne Hickman tries to woo Annette, but she isn’t too interested. The two aren’t bad together, but it’s not the same without Frankie Avalon. When Frankie and Annette are finally reunited at the end, I felt strangely emotional – probably because Hickman and Funicello’s lack of chemistry isn’t easy to watch.
The “beach party” films are musicals, but not in the traditional sense. The songs come from guest starring popular performers like Little Stevie Wonder, Dick Dale or Donna Loren. Frankie and Annette also sing a few songs. Loren’s “It Only Hurts When I Cry” doesn’t have anything to do with the plot of “Beach Blanket Bingo,” it’s just a song in the movie.
But “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” is different. The songs are written more like a traditional musical where the songs help move the plot along or help describe a character. For example, “How About Us” is the beach girls singing to Mickey Rooney asking why doesn’t he pick them for his upcoming ad campaign. Or “Madison Avenue” is Rooney and other ad representatives singing about how important Brian Donlevy is.
A performance by the Kingsman and then Annette are the only songs that don’t tell a story, and are more like the performances in the other beach films.
Many of the beach films also feature actors who were famous in the 1940s and 1950s – such as Robert Cummings, Keenan Wynn, Buster Keaton or Vincent Price. But for some reason seeing Brian Donlevy in “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” really threw me. Mickey Rooney does a little singing and still had his voice, but he also still made some of the same comedic faces he was doing as a teen in the Andy Hardy films. Buster Keaton has a small role, but he was a mainstay in many of the beach party films.
The mainstay actors of the beach films like John Ashley and Jody McCrea are all in the film, but they don’t seem to have as much screentime as they do in other films.
These beach party films were inspired by the surf craze, and there is less and less surfing in each film. No surfing takes place in “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.” But there is a motorcycle race.
And who is “stuffing” the “wild bikini” you ask? That is Beverly Adams, who later famous hairdresser Vidal Sassoon from 1967 to 1981. Adams, who is a brunette, wears a terrible long red wig in the film. Her character is created by voodoo witch Buster Keaton to distract the other men away from Annette. This was Adams’s first credited film role, though she had been performing on television.
While “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” may be called the worst of the beach films, I truthfully think they are all on a level playing field (except for Beach Party (1963) which is the best). They are all lighthearted fun which is brought down by the irritating stunts of Lembeck’s motorcycle gang.
Most interesting is to watch for the old stars who are cast in these films. I just wish that there had been more Frankie Avalon so it felt like a true Frankie and Annette film pairing.