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Welcome to SixtiesCinema.com the home of award winning author and film historian Tom Lisanti's groovy books on 60's starlets and drive-in movies from Elvis and beach party musicals to biker films to teenage exploitation. Check out his Blog below for updates or tribute pieces on all your favorite '60s starlets and B-movie actors. Purchase his highly entertaining, well-illustrated books directly from Amazon.com

About Tom



Tom Lisanti is an award-winning author and historian on Sixties B-movies. He has written a series of books on the subject and has interviewed some of the most famous starlets of the time. His latest book Pamela Tiffin: Hollywood to Rome, 1961-1974 is now available and look for his next book Sixties Pop Cinema in 2016.

 
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53 Years Ago…

Village of the Giants opened in 1965 starring Tommy Kirk, Johnny Crawford, Beau Bridges, Ronny Howard, Tim Rooney, Bob Random and 60s starlets Tisha Sterling and Joy Harmon (Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Hollywood), Gail Gilmore aka Gail Gerber (Trippin), Vicki London (Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood) plus Charla Doherty and Toni Basil

Village of the Giants was loosely based on H.G. Wells’ story Food of the Gods and was produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon. Here science fiction meets teen exploitation head on with an excellent array of scantily-clad starlets, exciting musical performers, and a classic background score by composer Jack Nitzshe. As for the story, boy genius Ronny Howard develops a magic goop, which is eaten by a cat and two ducks that grow giant-size.  When a group of troublemaking teenagers (including Beau Bridges, busty Joy Harmon, beautiful Tisha Sterling, Tim Rooney, perky Gail Gilmore, sultry Vicki London, and Bob Random), who look as tough as Archie, Betty and Jughead, hear of this at the local discotheque, they steal the goop and sprout to mammoth proportions. They pop out of their now too small clothes and begin terrorizing the small town in the process while draped in togas made from old theatre curtains.  The local teens (led by Tommy Kirk, Johnny Crawford. Charla Doherty, red-haired Toni Basil years before Mickey was oh so fine) join forces with the police to thwart the marauding giant teens who have an axe to grind with the adult establishment. When the good teens fail in stopping the overgrown delinquents, Howard develops a smoke gas that counteracts the growth formula.  The “giant” teens shrink to normal size and are then chastised and run out of town.

The opening scene of Village of the Giants features the group of delinquents piling out of their wrecked auto after crashing on a mountain road during a rainstorm. They then begin dancing in the mud to the film’s rockin’ music score, which is heard throughout the movie. “This scene was awful,” exclaimed Joy Harmon. “I had mud in my eyes and face—I was covered in mud all over my body! That scene was so true and authentic. They really made us got down in the mud. We just went for it and did the scene. The mud wasn’t thick but slimy—very slippery. We couldn’t stand up and were falling all the time. It was cold and I only had a little crop top on. The guys had a ball with it but the girls were freezing and dirty.  I felt so ugly—there was nothing glamorous about it!”

Vicki London recalled that muddy scene as well and remarked, “[It] didn’t bother me as much as it did the other girls. It was messy and hard to move around. I found it to be kind of stupid but the movie was stupid—yet it is so popular.” Tisha Sterling too felt the same way and remarked, “I felt exploited throughout the whole movie. It was all tits and ass. But that’s part of Bert Gordon’s thing when making a movie. I thought Bert was very good at making these kinds of films.”

Producer Bert I.Gordon was known for his previous gimmick films involving giants or huge animals including King Dinosaur (1955), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), and The Spider (1958). He not only produced and directed Village of the Giants but was responsible for the special effects as well. Though the effects are cheesy and amateurish, they do have an endearing quality about them—none more so when giant-size ducks are seen doing the Jerk and the Watusi at the Whiskey a-Go-Go.

Another interesting effects scene is when the giant teenagers are sitting on the stage of the town’s movie theater and Tommy Kirk brings them food, which is supposed to be chicken. Gordon filmed the teens separately from Kirk and used rear projection to edit the scene together. According to Joy Harmon, “The prop guys gave us some really small bird that they fried to make it look like a tiny chicken. It came from a famous chicken place and it was horrible. I hated eating whatever it was and had to keep eating it over and over. They even duplicated the chicken box and the coke bottles as small props. I thought Bert did a good job and was a super nice man. I could talk to him very easily. He wasn’t a typical director who told you to stand here or there but more of a creative person.  And I think the cast responded to that.”

Though Joy respected Gordon, she did have a bit of a problem with Bert regarding one of her scenes and that was because of her amble bosom keeping with the giant theme.  Harmon opined, “The only thing that irritated me while doing this film was the scene when my sweater pops open as I grow to a giant—you didn’t see anything—but I hated that scene. I objected to wearing that sweater and asked Bert Gordon if I could wear something else to pop out of.  Nobody else had that problem. They wore clothes that got smaller but mine had to open. I also felt very uncomfortable because I couldn’t wear a bra and I don’t like going without one.”

Vicki London felt the same way as well and let her discomfort be known to her detriment. She recalled, “During the wardrobe fittings, they wanted us [Joy Harmon, Tisha Sterling, Gail Gerber] to remove our blouses because they wanted the girl with the biggest breasts to play the part Joy Harmon wound up with. I refused and Tisha did too.  They still gave Tisha a very nice part. It was down hill after this for me though. Now that I am older and think back on it, I understand that Bert just wanted to see who would fit that part since her chest was used in the ad posters with Johnny Crawford hanging off her bra straps. But at the time it just didn’t feel right to me. They made an issue out of me not willing to show my breasts, so they threatened that if I didn’t do it they were going to cut me out of everything and they did.”

Gail Gerber (aka Gilmore) remembered this incident and said, “They wanted us to show us popping out of our clothes and asked if we minded being nude for it though we would cover our breasts with our arms. I never had any qualms with nudity so I readily said yes. Joy did too, but Vicki refused. She was a sweet girl and this was 1964 so her reluctance was understandable to me but unfortunately for her not the producer. I guess to punish Vicki they didn’t use her at all in those scenes and at one point shot her in silhouette from behind a screen.”

The cast seemed to gel on-and-off-screen and nobody had a bad word about anyone with Beau Bridges being all the gals favorite.  “Everybody was just so nice to work with—we were just a bunch of kids having a really good time,” Joy Harmon says.  “Tisha is so beautiful in this film.  I remember that she has such a gorgeous face.  And Beau Bridges is a nice very guy and liked to joke around.  He got married just before filming began.”

Tisha Sterling said, “I really did have a good time making this film. Beau Bridges is great!  He is a friend and I like him a lot.  He is a very bright, funny, and talented man.  I became friendly with his first wife Julie and I think they were adopting children at the time. Joy Harmon is a very sweet girl. We really didn’t do too much together after the film was over but we always kept in touch via other people. I would really love to find out what happened to Bob Random. His wife Ida became a costume or set designer.  They were both fascinating people.”

Vicki London concurs about Beau Bridges, “Beau Bridges was wonderful. I also met his brother Jeff and his father Lloyd and they were all so down-to-Earth. That is a really nice family and really great people. Beau I think was the nicest of them all. Tisha Sterling was fabulous. She should have become a major star because she was absolutely gorgeous. Joy Harmon had a bubbly personality and was very sweet, but she didn’t have that movie star look.  Gail Gerber was nice also.”

Gail Gerber remembered,Terry Southern came to the set of Village of the Giants one day and hit it off with big-eyed blonde Joy Harmon. He had met her previously on The Loved One where she had a tiny role as an aspiring starlet. Joy was a sweet girl but she was so formidable and so big in so many ways I was a bit put off by her. But Terry was just drawn to larger-than-life people and thought she was wonderful. Joy was so full of energy. Tisha Sterling was the prettiest thing I ever saw. Beau Bridges was just a kid then but so charming. If I ever meet him again, I would hate to say—because he has done some wonderful, fine work—that not only did we work together on Village of the Giants but I was the blonde who licked his face during the dance scene in the mud.  He’d probably take out a gun and shoot me!”

For everything you ever wanted to know about Village of the Giants, but were afraid to ask, visit Michael Howe’s fantastic tribute web site accessible from the link below:

http://www.angelfire.com/weird2/villageoftheg/

 

 

47 Years Ago Yesterday…

the hippie horror flick The Velvet Vampire directed by Stephanie Rothman opened starring Michael Blodgett, Sherry Miles and the late Celeste Yarnall as the alluring title character. After meeting married couple Susan and Lee Ritter (Miles and Blodgett) at an art gallery, Yarnall’s Diana lures them into staying the weekend at her Mojave Desert home. Soon both husband and wife find themselves sexually drawn to their mysterious host who suffers from a rare blood disease. Unlike vampires of lore, Diana was able to journey out into the sunlight as long as she is covered up. In the course of twenty-four hours, Diana feasts on a mechanic, his girlfriend, and a servant. After making love with Diana, Lee wants to depart but Susan is fascinated with the charming Diana and wants to stay. Their delay in leaving costs Lee his life while Diana meets her gruesome end at the hands of a cult hippie gang.

Commenting on the film, cover girl Celeste said in my McFarland book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema,

“I dyed my hair black for this role, Though the part was a bit corny, I got into playing a vampire. The film had an interesting script by Charles S. Swartz, which explained Diana’s condition very well. This was one of the first films released by Roger Corman’s new production company [New World] and was more original than some of Roger’s other films, which were rip-offs of other movies. I became good friends with Roger and have a lot of respect for his talent.

Though I was only semi-nude, it still bothered me.  Charles Swartz also produced the film and his wife Stephanie Rothman directed it. They both were very nice and one of the ways that they persuaded me into doing the nude scene with Michael Blodgett was by making it an absolutely closed set. After it was lit, everyone left except the cinematographer, Stephanie, and her husband.  The cinematographer’s name was Daniel Lacambre and he was brilliant.  He lit and shot the film beautifully.

“I worked well with Sherry Miles but this was a very dark period for Michael Blodgett. He was drinking heavily throughout the shoot.  I was not at all pleased with him as my leading man.  In the scene where I have to stab him and he dies, he’s laying on top of me.  Michael had his hand behind me and he didn’t realize that as he was acting he was closing his hand around my spine.  He really hurt me—my whole back was bruised.  But he had no clue what he was doing.  He had been drinking the night before.  Consequently, it was difficult for me to work with him and retain my air of professionalism.  I tried to just put up with it.  The producers finally got his girlfriend to come on location so he sobered up a bit when she arrived.  It was murder until she got there.  Michael ultimately cleaned up his act.

 

53 Years Ago Today…

Beach Ball opened starring Edd Byrnes, Chris Noel, Aron Kincaid and Gail Gilmore (aka Gail Gerber). It is arguably the breeziest and most enjoyable of the Beach Party clones. It is also the most blatant rip off throwing in everything from surfing, skydiving, and hot rodding to a battle-of-the-bands contest and the guys in drag to match the zaniness of the AIP beach movies. Four college dropouts (Byrnes, Kincaid, Don Edmonds and Robert Logan) try to con some nerdy girls (Noel, Gilmore, Brenda Benet and Mikki Jamison) at the student union to give them a student loan for tuition but in fact the money is needed to pay for their musical instruments. The gals get wise to their scheme and try to trick the guys into returning to school. The film works well because it is fast-paced, nicely photographed in color, has some funny moments, lots of beach scenes, a healthy-looking cast, and an excellent roster of musical performers most notably the Supremes, the Righteous Brothers, and The Four Seasons who are interspersed throughout the movie.

As for the cast, unlike Annette Funicello in the Beach Party movies or Noreen Corcoran in The Girls on the Beach, perky Chris Noel and the other gals are not afraid to show off their shapely figures in very revealing bikinis. Pretty blonde hanger on Anna Lavelle in particular dons the skimpiest swimsuits and has some funny moments as the guy’s addled-brained beach groupie Polly. The movie boasts perhaps the most curvaceous set of lead actresses in any beach movie from the decade. For boy watchers, the guys’ sport nice physiques particularly handsome Robert Logan and blonde Aron Kincaid who gives a droll performance as ladies man, Jack.  Edd Byrnes is definitely too long in the tooth to make a believable college guy but he does look swell in his swim trunks.

Surfing is limited to the opening stock footage of surfers riding huge swells and as with most beach-party movies when the actors emerge from the ocean it is calm without a big wave in sight. The film’s major asset is the music from the catchy instrumental entitled “Cycle Chase” heard throughout to the songs lip-synched by Kincaid and the others as the Wigglers to all of the numbers performed by the rock acts. The standout is definitely seeing the Supremes singing “Come to the Beach Ball with Me” and “Surfer Boy.”  Though the Motown songwriters did not come close to capturing the authentic surf sound (hell they were from Detroit and what did they know about surfing anyway?), the girls sing the catchy tunes well.  Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson look great but Diana Ross is a fright with her chipped tooth and big beehive wig.  Her close-ups are truly scarier than anything found in The Horror of Party Beach—another reason why Beach Ball is a must to see.

More in my book Hollywood Surf & Beach Movies from McFarland and Company.

 

SHE MADE COOL HAND LUKE LOSE HIS COOL

Reviewing my Blog stats below is an encore presentation of my most popular Blog post to date.

Below is a great clip from the great movie Cool Hand Luke (1967) starring Paul Newman and George Kennedy highlighting Lalo Schifrin‘s classic musical score.

The girl who washes the car and gets the chain gang all hot and bothered is Fantasy Femme Joy Harmon in her most memorable role though she doesn’t utter a word.

jul 224Joy Harmon began her show business career as a teenage extra in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1956).  Her curvaceous figure, measuring 41-22-36, was her ticket to Broadway in the comedy Make Me Laugh starring Sam Levene in 1958 as the comic foil to the comedian.  On television the popular pin-up (who also posed for numerous men’s magazines except Playboy because she wouldn’t go topless) became a favorite of such talk show hosts as Steve Allen and Gary Moore who spun as many double-entendres as possible at Joy’s expense and, of course, comparisons to Jayne Mansfield were inevitable.  In between variety show appearances, she found time to make her film debut as a tough chain-smoking broad in the juvenile rock-and-roll flick, Let’s Rock (1958) starring, of all people, Julius LaRosa.

Hollywood soon beckoned and Harmon became a regular on the short-lived Tell It to Groucho in 1962.  On the big and small screens, Harmon was so adept at playing the dizzy bugged-eyed blonde with the giggly laugh that she became typecast.  Minor movie roles in Mad Dog Coll (1962), Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), Young Dillinger (1965), and The Loved One (1965) led to lead roles as a teenage delinquent in Village of the Giants (1965) opposite Beau Bridges and a beach denizen in Hawaii mixed up in robbery in One Way Wahine (1965).  Even when playing bad girls, audiences could not help but love Joy due to her effervescent personality and the innocence she brought to all her characters.  This quality is undoubtedly why she was hired for her most infamous role in Cool Hand Luke (1967).

Cool Hand Luke examines life for men on a chain gang in a Southern prison camp.  The immensely entertaining social drama stars Paul Newman as a loner who refuses to conform to society’s rules and George Kennedy, who won an Oscar for his performance as one of Newman’s fellow prisoners.  On paper, Joy’s part seemed innocuous enough—a pretty girl washes her car while shackled prisoners of a chain gang peer on.  Recalling the audition Joy says, “I had this agent named Leon Lance who was around forever in Hollywood.  He got me the interview for Cool Hand Luke and told me that I had to wear a bikini for it.  Paul Newman, Stuart Rosenberg [the director], and somebody else were there.  I remember Paul Newman said to me, ‘Gosh, you have the bluest eyes!’  They just talked to me and that was it.  It was a small part with no lines but I wanted to work with Newman so when they offered it to me I accepted.”

Joy1Cool Hand Luke was filmed in Stockton, California.  None of the actors were allowed to bring their wives or girlfriends to the set because Stuart Rosenberg wanted his actors to have the feel for what it would be like to work on a chain gang without female contact.  When they finally saw a woman their reactions would be believable and not “acting.”  After arriving on location, Joy was sequestered at the hotel for two days and never saw anyone.  They kept her away from all the actors until filming began.  With Newman, Kennedy, and the rest of the chain gang entranced, Harmon washes her car like she’s making love to a man.  While Kennedy dubs her his innocent “Lucille,” Newman realizes she is just a tease and knows exactly what she is doing by getting the prisoners excited.  “Stuart Rosenberg was so sensitive and took time to work with me,” recalls Joy fondly.  “I didn’t even have a line but he just wanted everything motivated with a thought behind it.  He was an actor’s director—more concerned with the actors than the lighting or anything else.  He kept talking with me and it was like a bonding kind of thing, which is why I was able to release all that energy in that scene.

“Stuart was very specific and knew exactly what he wanted,” continues Joy.  “I guess you can tell that by the way the scene comes off—but I didn’t realize it.  And I don’t think I even realized it right after I did it.  There were a lot of things he made me do a certain way—soaping the windows, holding the hose— that had a two-way meaning.  He would tell me to look different ways and we kept shooting it over and over again.  I just figured I was washing the car.  I’ve always been naïve and innocent.  I was acting and not trying to be sexy.”

JoyAll of Rosenberg’s work paid off as the scene is unforgettable and is truly one of the sixties’ most provocative moments.  Joy, clad in a tatty housedress with her cleavage clearly on display, holds the nozzle of the hose suggestively, squeezes the soap from the sponge and drenches her dress, and presses her bounteous bosom on the passenger-side window as she washes the roof putting on quite a tantalizing show for the frustrated prisoners.  “I never had any inclination that this would be such a memorable role,” says Joy.  “Except for being in a movie with Paul Newman, I never expected this part to be so notable and get the reaction it did.  After seeing it at the premiere I was a bit embarrassed.  Of all the things I’ve done people know me most from this film.”

Unfortunately for movie audiences Joy never capitalized on the notoriety that the film brought her.  After the movie was released she met film editor Jeff Gourson and they wed.  American International Pictures wanted to sign Joy to a contract beginning with the lead role in The Young Animals (1968) but she declined as she was happy juggling bit roles (A Guide for the Married Man, Angel in My Pocket, Norwood) with her new marriage.

Harmon continued acting mostly on television in such series as Love, American Style and The Odd Couple until 1973 when she retired to raise her children.  Her only foray back into show business was doing voiceover work in her husband’s hit TV series Quantum Leap.  Today that girl from Cool Hand Luke has her own business called Aunt Joy’s Cakes.  While she was acting Joy’s bosoms weren’t the only treats she brought to the set as she also shared her delicious homemade cakes and cookies with cast and crew.  In the nineties, she began supplying her niece’s coffee shop with her desserts and then saw her business quickly expand to include all the major movie studios.  She now has a web site and you can order Joy’s baked goods online at Aunt Joy’s Cakes.

 

 

 

 

 

55 years ago today…

the Grade-Z horror movie The Slime People opened starring Robert Hutton, Les Tremayne, Judee Morton, and in her first feature role Drive-In Dream Girl Susan Hart who talked about making the movie.

When asked how she landed this role, Hart answered facetiously, “Just luck I guess.” Robert Hutton, who also produced and directed The Slime Peoplewent to Hart’s agent and several other agents and asked if they had anybody on their rosters suitable for the role of Gwen. “All Bill Schuyler told me about it was that it was a reading for lead in a motion picture,” revealed Hart. “At that point I still did not know the title of the film. But I did know it was going to star Robert Hutton, whom I remember my sister Helen thought was just a fabulously handsome man. I read for the role in the morning. I went to lunch with a friend and when I arrived home around four o’clock I got a call from my agent telling me that I got the part. Not only did I get a role but also my roommate, Judee Morton, was cast as my little sister. It was incredible!  Even after I found out the title I thought this was still a pretty good opportunity.”

The Slime People was shot at KTLA Studios. After about nine days of filming, the cast stopped getting paid and the make-up man left. However, Hart proved to be a trouper and continued with the production. She even did her own make-up. Despite these misfortunes, Susan does not look back on this film with any bad memories. “Everybody connected to this was really nice. Don Hansen was the name of the man who financed the film. As I recall, he always wore a Fedora and owned a lot of dry cleaners. Robert Hutton knew I didn’t have any experience doing films and he couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. He practically told me every move to make and taught me about hitting your mark.”

In The Slime People, nuclear testing decimates Los Angeles leaving the city enshrouded in a blanket of fog. A small group of survivors try to make it out of the deserted metropolis while battling subterranean creatures roused from hibernation. Robert Hutton stars playing a hot shot pilot with Robert Burton as a professor and Hart and Morton as his daughters. One of the films many unintentional laughs is that despite the fact that she is being terrorized and chased by the Slime People, Hart’s character Gwen keeps on her four-inch high heel shoes and never lets go of her oversize black pocketbook. “Isn’t that funny? I think I still have that purse around my home somewhere. We were given something like eighteen dollars to pick out our own wardrobe. Judee and I went to Orbach’s and it was my decision to buy those shoes and purse. Those shoes killed my feet, which were never the same again.

“A man Tracey Putnam played the doctor in this,” continued Hart. “He was an actual doctor and had discovered a drug which keeps Epileptics from going into seizures. His stepson, Jock Putnam, played one of the Slime People and talked his stepfather into playing one of these roles. It was a riot to see Jock and the other actor who played the Slime People sitting on the set smoking a cigarette. You’d see smoke pouring out of all of the orifices of these gigantic costumes.”

The ad copy for The Slime People proclaimed, “Up from the Bowels of the Earth Come …The Slime People.” Needless to say, the film did not receive rave reviews. It is no wonder then Hart tried to distance herself from the as much as she could. “Now talking about The Slime People is fun,” admitted Hart. “But a few years after making it I kept thinking that The Slime People was a terrible movie to be associated with. It wasn’t very good and didn’t play in many theaters. The reviews weren’t very good if it even got reviewed at all.” To keep journalists from asking about the film, when Hart landed one of the lead roles in her fourth movie, Ride the Wild Surf (1964), it was touted as a first starring role.

Hart would then go on to land a contract with AIP and then a husband, one of the studio’s founders Jack H. Nicholson. Her subsequent work included the features Pajama Party; War-Gods of the Deep; Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine; and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini before she retired to raise her son.

Read more about Susan Hart in my book Drive-In Dream Girls.

 

 

Dueling Harlows Feud On

One of my biggest regrets was that I never shared by book Dueling Harlows: Race to the Silver Screen with any publishers because I thought there would be minimal interest so I self-published. It is one of most popular books and most reviewed on Amazon (and I do agree with some of the criticisms). Here is the latest.

Customer Review
5.0 out of 5 starsEnthralling!!
ByJennifer M. Cisickon August 13, 2018
Format: Paperback
Although the 60’s genre is not typically “my cup of tea”, the 30’s are. Dueling Harlows: Race to the Silver Screen by Tom Lisanti was so enthralling I couldn’t put it down. I am a fan of Jean Harlow (1911-1937) so naturally the title piqued my interest. The two Harlow movies were made in 1965 and Mr. Lisanti did an excellent job of describing in detail the competing movies and their race to the silver screen. He was very thorough in all facets of this book and it was obviously well researched (everything from the preproduction, the filming, the actors’ bios, interviews with those involved, reviews of the movies, description of the plot of both movies, etc.). What I really enjoyed was reading about the aftermath and the follow-up to all persons involved and what they went on to do after the movies were made. I highly recommend this book!

 

Podcasts, Sixties Cinema Style

I have been busy guesting on a few different podcasts these last couple of weeks.

Usually its my 60s starlets talking sixties drive-in movies but here it is me with Kristen Lopez on her wonderful podcast Ticklish Business talking Girl Happy starring Elvis Presley, Shelley Fabares, Mary Ann Mobley, Gary Crosby &  Chris Noel featured in my BearManor Media Book Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies.

https://ticklishbusiness.podbean.com/e/episode-47-girl-happy-1965/

On The Junot Files, Jim Junot and I talk about my book Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies.

 

And on Forgotten Films, Todd Liebenow and I discuss The Pleasure Seekers (1964) starring Pamela Tiffin, Carol Lynley, Ann-Margret, Tony Franciosa, Gardner McKay, Brian Keith, Gene Tierney, and Andre LAwrence.

Forgotten Filmcast Episode 109: The Pleasure Seekers

 

Beach Blanket Homo: Gay Moments in ‘60s Beach Movies

The Sixties beach movie craze began with Gidget (1959) starring Sandra Dee and James Darren, a fictionalized look at teenager Kathy Kohner’s surfing escapades in Malibu during the mid-Fifties. It was groundbreaking as the movie contributed to the mass dissention of surfers on the beaches of Malibu and started a series of surf-theme films such as Gidget Goes Hawaiian and Ride the Wild Surf.

The surf movie soon morphed into the beach-party film, whose heyday was from 1963 through 1965, where surfing was only used as a backdrop to fanciful teenage beach adventures. Beach Party from AIP starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello launched Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Pajama Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Soon other studios were releasing their own Beach Party rivals such as Surf Party, The Girls on the Beach, and Beach Ball. Some of these films varied from the formula by shifting the locale to a lake (A Swingin’ Summer) or the ski slopes (Ski Party, Winter a-Go-Go, Wild Wild Winter). These movies for the most part followed a successful simple formula—start with attractive swimsuit clad teenagers twisting on the sand, add a dash of surfing (or ski) footage, mix in romantic misunderstandings, stir in popular musical performers, add aging comedians for comic relief, and whisk in villainous bikers or predatory adults.


Gay subtext crept into a few of the beach-party movies giving these films camp appeal today. Discounting the obvious fact that these sand-and-surf epics were titillation for homosexual men of the time, as good looking shirtless movie hunks such as Jody McCrea, Fabian, Aron Kincaid, James Stacy, and Peter Brown frolic on the sand in swim trunks or the slopes in tight ski pants. Or that gay actors such as Tab Hunter, Tommy Kirk, and Paul Lynde appeared in these movies, there were other factors that probably were not obvious back in the Sixties. Either a director or screenwriter may have tried to slip in with a wink and a nudge to the homosexual community in an unassuming way that made it past the oblivious producers and censors.

The most obvious example is Muscle Beach Party (1964) featuring a clean-cut group of surfers versus a cult of bodybuilders headed by Don Rickle’s Jack Fanny. During the Fifties and Sixties, the public automatically associated bodybuilding with homosexuality because muscle men of the time appeared as objects of desire wearing posing briefs or sometimes nothing at all in physique magazines whose readers were mostly gay men. Writing on the subject, film historian Joan Ormond commented, “Homosexuality in this era was regarded as potentially more damaging to society as the wild antics of surfers.” Hence, the bodybuilders of Muscle Beach Party are seen as the bad guys along the lines of Eric Von Zipper’s motorcycle gang of Beach Party as they are out to corrupt the youth of America.

Though handsome Fabian, Tab Hunter, and Peter Brown pursue beach babes when not in the water in Ride the Wild Surf (1964), there is a strong “homo-erotic undercurrent” throughout. The scenes of these shirtless surfers bonding or comforting each other while tackling the huge waves of Waimea Bay have become gay porn staples. Supposed swinging bachelors Paul Lynde and Woody Woodbury in For Those Who Think Young (1964) come off like two bickering old queens rather than swinging playboys as they frolic on the shore with the surfer crowd headed by James Darren. They even sneak in a Paul Lynde quip while he’s holding two large-sized hot dogs. Keeping with the wiener symbolism, the scene of boyish surfer boy Mike Nader (later “Dex Dexter” on TV’s Dynasty) inserting a frankfurter into the mouth of equally blonde Johnny Fain in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) while Donna Loren sings about an unrequited love is certainly an eyebrow raiser. How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) went a step further with one of the nameless surfers more interested in his books than girls resulting in raised eyebrows and innuendo that he prefers boys whenever he makes a comment. And finally in The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) while Deborah Wally sleeps alone in a double-size bed, Tommy Kirk shares his with Aron Kincaid.

Winter a-Go-Go (1965), a beach party in the snow, has the obligatory scantily clad ski babes and their horny tight pants wearing boyfriends, which you’d expect to find in this type of film. But what makes the movie especially interesting and an undiscovered camp classic is that it arguably introduces the first major ambiguous gay character to appear in a beach-party type movie. The role of Roger that screenwriter Bob Kanter created for himself is the asexual best friend of socialite Janine (Jill Donohue). Though he travels with her and her friend Dori (Judy Parker) there is no evidence of any current or past romance with either gal. During the course of the film Janine sets her sights on Danny (James Stacy) and Jeff (William Wellman, Jr.) but winds up reuniting with tough guy Burt (Anthony Hayes). Dori makes goo-goo eyes at Frankie (Tom Nardini) throughout the film. Poor Roger—if he is not running to Jeff and Danny for protection from the bullying Burt he just sits there drinking his cokes making catty comments about the proceedings.

Of course, you couldn’t have a beach movie without putting some of the actors in women’s clothes. Scenes of guys dressed in drag dominated three movies. In The Girls on the Beach (1965), Martin West, Aron Kincaid, and Steve Rogers make glamorous college girls complete with lip-gloss, false eyelashes, and mascara as they don some coeds’ frocks to sneak out of a sorority house. In Beach Ball (1965) Kincaid was back to wearing a dress (though he was not as fabulous looking as in his prior movie) along with Edd Byrnes, Don Edmonds and Robert Logan as they try to avoid the police at a music fair. And best of all Ski Party (1965), a sort of Some Like It Hot for the teenage crowd, had Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman disguise themselves as British lasses “Jane” and “Nora”, respectively, to infiltrate the opposite sex to learn what women are looking for in a man. In the process, suave Aron Kincaid as ladies man Freddie falls for Hickman’s female persona. At first Hickman finds it annoying but when his girlfriend (Yvonne Craig) keeps giving him grief, he decides to turn back into “Nora” and go out with Freddie because he knows “how to treat a girl.” I bet he does.

 

55 Years Ago Today…

teenagers had to choose in seeing the just opened Beach Party or Gidget Goes to Rome. The latter starred James Darren back as Moondoggie and Cindy Carol stepping in for a pregnant Deborah Walley as the new Gidget. With only a short early scene on the sand, this does not qualify as a beach movie as the previous two did and more a romantic comedy travelogue beautifully shot on location in Italy. Co-stars include Joby Baker, Peter Brooks, Noreen Corcoran, and my fave the quirky Trudi Ames. Cindy Carol is perky and fun and I preferred her in this role more than Walley. Thank you John Ashley for knocking up your wife.

More adventurous teens chose the swingin’ seaside sensation Beach Party that made co-stars Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello forever synonymous with the beach and started its own movie genre. They are backed by a wonderful cast that became regulars Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Valora Noland, Candy Johnson, Meredith MacRae, Delores Wells, and surf rocker Dick Dale, among many others. It was the surprise sleeper hit of 1963 and without it there would be no Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969 book.

 

50 Years Ago Today…

the exciting biker flick Angels from Hell opened. Shot by director Bruce Kessler on location in Bakersfield, California and featuring reall members of Hell’s Angels, it starred Tom Stern as Mike, a disillusioned GI just returning from Vietnam, out to combat the establishment for sending him off to war. He heads for a new town where his buddy Smiley (Ted Markland) and his other former gang members are part of a new biker club, the Madcaps. Backed by his military experience, Mike takes out the club’s leader and beds the mini-skirted Ginger (Arlene Martel), who lets the bikers hang out at her farm because “they amuse her.” Unlike the other biker chicks, Ginger “hangs loose” and doesn’t want to be any man’s old lady. She rides with Mike and the gang to Hollywood to see a former member, pretty boy Dude Marshall (Steven Rogers), who is now a movie star. Ginger gets jealous of Mike’s attention towards Dude’s bimbo girlfriend (Susan Holloway) and when Mike makes time with a go-go dancer she calls the girl’s Lesbian lover who catches them in bed. During the course of the film the Madcaps drink beer, smoke pot, make love and tangle with “the squares.”(“We don’t want them to love us—just leave us alone.”) Mike’s power as leader of the gang goes to his head as he dreams to unite all the biker gangs, after biker Speed (Stephen Oliver) is “accidentally” killed by the police. When an innocent flower child is raped and murdered by one of the drugged-out bikers (Paul Bertoya as Nutty), the police close in as Mike tries to cover it up, to the consternation of Ginger. Now out of control, an enraged Mike calls for an all-out war against the cops only to die defiantly opposing the oppression of the establishment.

Recalling the shoot in my book Drive-In Dream Girls, Arlene Martel said,

“They [Hell’s Angels] were the most courteous and polite people we encountered. Some of the townspeople on the other hand, were so rude. One day Paul Bertoya and I were eating at this restaurant. This guy comes up to Paul and says, ‘I didn’t think we let any hippie fags into this town.’ He then assaults Paul and they started fighting. Nobody did anything! I was so scared. After my frantic prodding somebody finally called the police. It was a frightening moment—let me tell you. I had not been exposed to anything quite like that before.”