Musical Monday: Beach Party (1963)

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.

This week’s musical:
Beach Party” (1964)– Musical #288

Beach Party (USA, 1963) - 01

Studio:
American International Pictures (AIP)

Director:
William Asher

Starring:
Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Robert Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Morey Amsterdam, Vincent Price, Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Meredith MacRae, Candy Johnson, Michael Nader, Mickey Dora, Eva Six
Themselves: Dick Dale and the Del Tones

Plot:
Professor Sutwell (Cummings) is an anthropologist observing the teenage surfing subculture with his assistant Marianne (Malone). One couple he observes in the mix of dancing, surfing and kissing teenagers are Frankie (Avalon) and his girlfriend Dolores (Funicello) head to the beach where Frankie hoped to have romantic alone time with Dolores. However, Dolores invited the whole gang of friends because she “doesn’t trust herself” to be alone with Frankie. This causes a rift between the two and each tries to make the other jealous, and Dolores uses Professor Sutwell.

Robert Cummings as the anthropologist observing the surfing subculture

Robert Cummings as the anthropologist observing the surfing subculture

Trivia:
-The first of the American International Pictures surfing films.

-Walt Disney’s request to have his contract player Annette Funicello to not wear a bikini that shows her naval is true, according to her autobiography “A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES: MY STORY.” Funicello was in compliance with Disney, which angered the American International Producers. However, she held her ground to not wearing sexier clothing, also because she said she didn’t feel like a sex symbol.

-Filmed in three weeks for $300,000, according to Annette Funicello’s autobiography

-“Beach Party” is Annette’s favorite of the beach films, she wrote in her autobiography.

-Real life surfers Mickey Dora, Johnny Fain, Mike Nadar, Ed Garner did the surfing scenes.

-AIP producers originally wanted singer Fabian for the lead role, and singer Bobby Vinton’s agent was trying to get him the part, before Frankie Avalon was cast, according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969 by Thomas Lisanti

Highlights:
-Robert Cummings’ beard
-Goofy scenes like a guy playing a recorder and a girl coming out of the sand like a snake.
-“Hang on to the picture rights, American International will snap it in a minute” -Dorothy Malone referencing the producers of the film while discussing Robert Cummings’ research.
-Robert Cummings comparing the teenage dancing to rituals such as the Simonian Puberty Dance and the mating dance of the whooping crane
-Candy Johnson’s go-go dancing

Notable Songs:
-Beach Party performed by Frankie and Annette
-Don’t Stop Now performed by Frankie Avalon
-Secret Surfin’ Spot performed by Dick Dale
-Swingin’ and a-Surfin’ performed by Dick Dale

My review:
Annette Funicello says this was her favorite of the beach films and it is mine as well.

While “Beach Blanket Bingo” is probably the most memorable and famous of the AIP films, “Beach Party” has the best plot, songs and stars.

All of the beach films are nonsense, but “Beach Party” seems like it made some sort of attempt to have a coherent (though goofy) plot line. I feel like this largely has to do with the roles and casting of Dorothy Malone and Robert Cummings. “Beach Party” has legitimate laugh-out-loud moments, mostly due to Robert Cummings as the “square” anthropologist, where the others don’t, at least for me. I thought it was hilarious when Cummings, using his knowledge of anthropology, is comparing teenage dancing to “the mating dance of the whooping crane” or “the Simonian puberty dance,” and then performs a math problem in order to accurately surf.

In other beach films, Keenan Wynn has an evil gorilla, Deborah Walley skydives or Frankie Avalon plays a dual role as British singer, “Potato Bug.” That’s just dumb. I also personally have never been a big fan of Harvey Lembeck’s beach film role of motorcyclist “Erik Von Zipper,” who thankfully has a minimal part in “Beach Party.” This isn’t the case in other beach films.

Of the adult special guest stars that were featured in these movies–Mickey Rooney (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini), Keenan Wynn (Bikini Beach), Dorothy Lamour (Pajama Party), Don Rickles (Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party), Brian Donlevy (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini)–Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone play key roles in the film and seem to not be absolutely insane. I left Buster Keaton off this list, simply because his roles in the beach films are very minor and he seldom speaks.

Another selling point for me is that Annette Funicello gets the most screen time in “Beach Party” than in any of the other beach films. While she is a star in the other five films, those movies mainly revolve around Frankie Avalon and up and coming stars, like Linda Evans in “Beach Blanket Bingo.”

“Beach Party” also has some awesome music, including music from Dick Dale and the theme “Beach Party,” which is my favorite song from all of the beach films.

Aside from colorful sets and attractive teens, “Beach Party” is rather important. While “Gidget” (1959) started the beach film craze and lead to “Beach Party,” this 1963 hit also began what everyone now knows as “Frankie and Annette beach films.”

“Beach Party” is colorful nonsense, but it’s a lot of fun and has laugh-out-loud funny moments. Give it a shot before turning up your nose to all beach films.

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in their first beach film,

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in their first beach film, “Beach Party.”

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Musical Monday: Surf Party (1964)

Image

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.

sp1This week’s musical:
Surf Party” (1964)– Musical #521

Studio:
Associated Producers (API), distributed by 20th Century Fox

Director:
Maury Dexter

Starring:
Bobby Vinton, Patricia Morrow, Jackie DeShannon, Ken Miller, Richard Crane, Lory Patrick, Jerry Summers
As Themselves: The Astronauts, The Routers

Plot:
Three girls drive from Arizona to Malibu, CA, for vacation, learn how to surf and find one of the girl’s brothers who she hasn’t seen in a long while.

Trivia:
-Surfers Mickey Dora and Johnny Fain are extras in the film.
-Rather than setting up actors against a screen for their surfing, actor Kenny Miller stood on the back of a speedboat, pretending to surf, as it rode through the water, according to Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies by Thomas Lisanti.

Notable Songs:
-“Crack Up” performed by the Routers

My review:
Thank goodness this was only an hour and seven minutes. But maybe it would have been better had this film had a slightly higher budget and could have hired better male leads.
Part of this low budget gives you one of the few black-and-white surf films. The fact that this film is in black-and-white is really the only thing I found notable about “Surf Party.”
Another noteworthy feature is that this was singer Jackie DeShannon’s first films. Unfortunately, she only got one song and it’s pretty silly: a gospel-esque song about surfing, “Glory Wave.”
The rest of the cast is lousy and the story is pretty melodramatic, complete with battling surfers, coerced innocent girls and surfing stars living in the homes of rich older women.

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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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