8 things you never knew about the 'Beach Party' movies
Learn how James Brown's pants, kidnapping, fraud and bellybuttons relate to the 1960s teen films.
Top image: AP Photo
Sand was big in the 1960s. The surf rock licks of the Surfaris and summer love harmonies of the Beach Boys pumped out of transistor radios. Elvis was shooting flicks in Hawaii. The summer box office was riddled with beach party films.
American International Pictures was king of the beach movie. With its headlining stars Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, the studio cranked out a dozen popcorn features loosely under the Beach Party umbrella between 1963 and 1967. The frothy franchise aimed squarely at teenagers kicked off with Beach Party and took detours into spy spoofs (the wonderfully titled Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine) and roaring racing films (Fireball 500, Thunder Alley).
Load up your picnic basket with these eight fascinating facts about AIP's Beach Party movies.
1. Fabian was initially intended to play Frankie Avalon's role.
A heartthrob of the 1950s, Fabian Forte still made girls faint in the 1960s. No wonder AIP looked to lock down the star for Beach Party. Alas, the singer-actor was under contract to 20th Century Fox. Enter Frankie Avalon, another chart-topper of the Eisenhower era, who was cast instead. Fabian would later get his chance to headline AIP pictures.
2. Walt Disney tried to prevent Annette Funicello from showing her navel.
As detailed in this post "The Myth of the Hidden Naval," an urban legend built up around Disney's demands of its beloved Mouseketeer. The Mouse House asked that Funicello not bare her midriff. In her 1994 memoir, Funicello claims she covered her belly "out of respect" for Walt Disney. That being said, her naval eventually found freedom and sunlight during scenes in Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach.
3. The stunt surfer fled the country in 1970 due to a warrant for fraud.
Miki "Mickey" Dora is a legendary and infamous figure in the world of surfing. The Malibu pioneer was featured in the seminal documentary The Endless Summer. Dora performed stunt surfing in Beach Party and other franchise entries. He also got to act a little in Ski Party. A fascinating and somewhat polarizing figure with a criminal background, Dora left for France in 1970 to avoid a warrant for check and credit card fraud. He later served time for his crimes.
Image: The Endless Summer / MONTEREY VIDEO
4. The co-creator and writer of 'Beach Party' died of brain cancer during the editing of the first film.
Tragedy struck the light-spirted films early on. Lou Rusoff was the writer originally comissioned by AIP to pen a Beach Party script. Other screenwriters came in later to rework the script, yet producer Samuel Arkoff asked that they take no credit. He wanted Rusoff to maintain sole credit, as the writer was dying from brain cancer. Rusoff passed away in the summer of 1963 at the age of 51.
5. Frank Sinatra, Jr.'s kidnapping affected the casting of 'Beach Blanket Bingo.'
Linda Evans titillated audiences as Sugar Kane in Beach Blanket Bingo. Nancy Sinatra was originally meant to play the role. However, the script called for Kane to be kidnapped. Sinatra's brother, Frank Jr., had recently been taken as part of a much publicized kidnapping in Lake Tahoe. She reportedly backed out of the movie over not wanting to act out that plot point.
Image: Beach Blanket Bingo / Olive Films
6. James Brown and his band play the ski patrol in 'Ski Party.' It was the only time he ripped his pants.
"I Got You (I Feel Good)" has been used so much in movies, it has become a cliché. In 1965, however, it was a cutting-edge jam. Brown performs the number in a lodge during Ski Party. He and his band, the Famous Flames, portray the mountain's ski patrol. Brown later claimed that out of the countless times he did the splits, the only time he ever ripped his pants was in this production.
Image: Ski Party / MGM/UA Home Entertainment
7. Don Rickles was in the movies because his agent was married to Annette Funicello.
Navy man and insult comic Rickles spent a lot of time along the shore, too. He was a regular alongside Annette in the Beach Party films, with prominent roles in teen romps Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo. Rickles' agent, Jack Gilardi, was married to Funicello.
Image: The Everett Collection
8. A Lieutenant Governor of California composed the score to one of the films.
Though loosely tied to the beach, the final entry, Thunder Alley, starring Annette and Fabian, featured music composed by Mike Curb. Ten of the 11 prior films featured the work of composer Les Baxter. The Republican Curb would serve under Democrat Jerry Brown as the 42nd Lieutenant Governor of California, from 1979 to 1983. He even acted as governor when Brown hit the campaign trail in his presidential bid.