The Girls on the Beach for the Beach Party Blogathon
The gals from the web sites Speakeasy and Silver Screenings are co-hosting this week a Beach Party Blogathon. Below is my contribution about 1965’s The Girls on the Beach with excerpts taken from my books Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies; Trippin with Terry Southern; and Drive-in Dream Girls.
After the success American International Pictures had with Beach Party (1963) followed by Muscle Beach Party (1964) and Bikini Beach (1964), every studio and independent producer wanted in on the beach movie action. Paramount Pictures picked up the distribution rights to The Girls on the Beach. A gaggle of coeds (including Noreen Corcoran from TV’s Bachelor Father; Natalie Wood’s sexier sister Lana Wood; Linda Saunders soon to morph into Lori Saunders on TV’s Petticoat Junction; and fresh faces Mary Mitchel, Gail Gerber, Linda Marshall, and Anna Capri) are trying to raise funds to save their sorority house using various schemes including try to win a crossword challenge, a bakeoff, and a beauty pageant. Then three surfer dudes (Martin West, Aron Kincaid, and Steve Rogers) who want to score with them trick the gals into thinking that they are tight with The Beatles. Things go awry when the girls announce a fundraiser with the Fab Four as headliners much to the detriment of the guys. When they learn that they have been duped, four of the coeds don longhaired wigs and impersonate The Beatles to an appreciative audience and save the day. Interspersed amongst the action are musical performances from The Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, and The Crickets.
The Girls on the Beach was the first of two movies backed by producer Roger Corman though his name does not appear on the credits. He enlisted his brother Gene Corman to act as Executive Producer to watch over his investment during production. Roger Corman had just signed an exclusive contract with Columbia Pictures, which forbade him from directing movies for any other studio. Corman put the movie in the hands of veteran director William N. Whitney. He had experience directing numerous TV shows and a few low-budget exploitation movies of the fifties such as Young and Wild (1958), Juvenile Jungle (1958,) and The Cool and the Crazy (1958). The Girls on the Beach had a three-week shooting schedule with interiors shot at Occidental Studios on Pico Boulevard and only two days filming on the beach in Santa Monica rather than Malibu the usual locale for the beach movies, which would have been too costly for this low-budget production.
The screenplay for The Girls on the Beach was by David Malcolm, which was a pseudonym for TV comedy scribe Sam Locke, who went on to author the screenplay for Corman’s next movie Beach Ball. The one common thread that can be found in both of these movies is that in each the actors have to dress in drag. Aron Kincaid said, “It was only years afterwards that I realized that the same man wrote them. I don’t know but he must have liked to see all of us in dresses or something!”
Actor Bart Patton was working for Roger Corman at the time and invited a number of his friends to come down to Corman’s office to interview for roles in the movie. Aron Kincaid recalls, “I knew Bart from UCLA. He had done a lot of other things and was one of the stars of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13. His wife was Mary Mitchel, who I also knew from UCLA. We all seemed to be connected one way or another—it was like one degree of separation. He called me to come down and audition. I had only been out of the Coast Guard for about a week or two so I was in the best physical shape I had been in, which is not to say that it was anything great! In those days people didn’t have the bodies like they do today. Just not having a tire around your middle was considered a great physique. I went on the interview and got one of the starring roles in The Girls on the Beach.”
To assure that teenagers would flood the theatres, the film was peppered with musical guest stars Lesley Gore, the Crickets, and the Beach Boys (who perform three tunes). Brian Wilson wrote the songs “The Girls on the Beach” and “Little Honda” especially for the movie and the recordings appeared on the Beach Boys’ LP All Summer Long.
With three weeks to shoot, William Whitney did not waste any time and worked his cast hard and fast. Describing Whitney’s directing style, Aron Kincaid remarked, “He encouraged everybody to improvise I think because he thought of us just a bunch of dumb young kids. But we were all professional and dead serious about our work. It’s funny regarding these beach movies. You’d think it was just a bunch of kids slapping around and having a good time. But everybody analyzed every scene that they did.
“For instance, in the opening scene Martin West is telling Steve Rogers and I what we got to do to pick up these girls at the next table,” continued Kincaid. “While he is talking he is playing with a straw. Whitney yelled cut because they had to set up a light differently so I stepped over to the side. Steve Rogers said, ‘Do you notice what Martin is doing with the straw.’ I said, ‘Yeah, he’s playing with it. He didn’t do that in rehearsal.’ Steve then said, ‘He’s doing this to draw all the attention and eyes to him on the screen.’ I said, ‘We’ve got to fight back!’”
Corman knew what he was doing by hiring Whitney. Working on a short production schedule, the veteran director tried to keep on time and within budget. Aron Kincaid remembers that at one point they just finished a scene that took a number of takes and Whitney only gave them a five-minute break before the next set up. As the young actors and actresses plopped down in their chairs, there was a lot of grumbling from the cast. “Gail Gerber was this little tough blonde,” says Aron. “I remember she was puffing on a cigarette and she shouted in frustration, ‘Who do you have to fuck to get off this picture?’ A crew guy yelled back, ‘The same guy you fucked to get on it!’ Gail laughed as hard as the rest of us.” Gail Gerber recalled this incident in her memoir Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember. It is all true and she remarked, “I think I stole that line from Bette Davis.”
Though the girls play well on screen behind the scenes was another matter. With a number of aspiring actresses in the film, you’d expect the fur was sure to fly and it did according to Aron Kincaid once the buxom Lana Wood hit the sound stage. “None of us had seen Lana other than in The Searchers when she was eight or nine years old,” recalled Aron Kincaid. “She came on the set the first day and it was like Jayne Mansfield’s entrance in The Girl Can’t Help It. There was everything but a drum going bump, bump, a-bump, bump, a-bump. She was in this gold lame bathing suit and I guess she was only eighteen at the time. She was built far beyond the other girls. Most of the others huddled with towels around them to hide false and imagined flaws. Linda Marshall carried a big white towel with red flowers on it and always had it draped around her because she was terrified that her thighs were going to look too big on the screen. But Lana—the brave soul that she was—just came on with this well here I am, take it or leave it attitude. Well, everybody wanted to take it. She was a knockout. I think the other girls in their little two-piece cotton polka-dot numbers felt sort of shone up but nobody could compete with a gold bikini.
“The other gal in it who was a pretty hot number was Anna Capri [pictured below with Peter Brooks],” continued Aron. “To say that the other girls on the picture ostracized Anna and Lana is an understatement. You think guys are competitive and scheming—you should see the women! They realized that they had some rough competition in Lana and Anna. Happily, it didn’t show on the screen. Though Anna’s character was sort of ostracized in the movie too.”
Though this was Gail Gerber’s first movie, she came from a impressive background of ballet, theater, and live TV in her native Canada. Commenting on what was going on around her, she said in her memoir, “Noreen Corcoran [pictured below] was the female lead in the movie and she refused to wear a bikini or a two-piece swimsuit. The costumer had to outfit her in these hideous floral one-piece bathing suits with matching cover-ups. However they also made her dye her beautiful chestnut brown hair blonde for the movie against her wishes so I did feel a bit sorry for her. Linda Marshall thought her thighs would look fat on the big screen so she draped herself in a beach towel in most of our scenes. I couldn’t believe the producers would let them get away with this. If you are ashamed or prudish about your body why agree to star in a beach movie!?! I thought all these girls were a bit ridiculous with their attitudes even more so when their claws came out, especially Linda’s, when Lana Wood pranced onto the soundstage in her gold lame bikini. She had no inhibitions whatsoever, which I think intimidated them. Being a bit older than these gals, I pretty much kept to myself. But seeing how they ostracized poor Lana, I sort of befriended her. I think they were jealous because her sister Natalie was a big movie star.”
Pictured above (clockwise from center: Gail Gerber; Lana Wood; Steve Rogers and Linda Marshall; and Lori Saunders. Click on image to get full-size.
Though both Aron and Gail felt Lana Wood was not treated very well by her co-stars, she did not convey that in my interview with her for Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema, “The Girls on the Beach was a lot of fun to do. What I especially remember is having to wear the Beatles wigs and that dreadful gold lame bikini. It was a really ugly bathing suit. We shot the sorority house and club scenes on this little bitsy stage but most of the film was shot at the beach. For a low budget independent film it went very smoothly.”
In The Girls on the Beach, West, Rogers, and Kincaid get trapped in the girls’ sorority house so the only way they can sneak out is by donning the girls’ clothes and wigs. Of course, they could have hung out the window and dropped to the ground but that would not have been as much fun. Though he didn’t mind dressing up, Kincaid didn’t think the scene was very realistic. “If three guys did have to do such a thing they would hardly be putting on false eyelashes and lip gloss with a lipstick brush, which is what the make-up man did to us. Everybody said that I looked like Lana Wood. I swore that Steve Rogers looked like Lizabeth Scott and Martin West resembled Rose Marie of The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Despite the hard working cast giving it their all, The Girls on the Beach is best remembered today for The Beach Boys rare big screen appearance. “I knew some of the Beach Boys before we even did the film,” said Aron Kincaid. “Dennis Wilson lived up the street. I’d be out in front of my house watering the lawn and he’d always wander by with the girl-of-the-moment that he was dating. I didn’t know Mike Love or Al Jardine but I did know Brian and Carl Wilson. When we did the musical number “Little Honda” with them in a nightclub scene I didn’t think, ‘Oh God, the Beach Boys!’ I just thought of Dennis as being the guy from around the corner and that we were all being paid to do some crazy work. On the set they were very friendly and did their job.”
Gail Gerber, coming from the world of classical ballet and jazz, had a different experience working with them. She revealed in her memoir, “The one thing that stands out for me while shooting The Girls on the Beach is that Mr. Witney asked me to dance in front of the dreaded Beach Boys while they sang “Little Honda.” I was never a fan of rock ‘n’ roll but after meeting Terry [Southern] I did learn to appreciate some of it—but to this day not the Beach Boys! I’m shaking and shimmying and I am thinking, “If they don’t yell cut pretty soon there is nothing more in my repertoire that I can do. This music is so boring—I can’t stand it. If they play that riff one more time I’m going to kill somebody!” They just kept banging away. Thirty years later I am reading about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys describing this scene in his early youth, which he said was his lowest moment because there was this girl gyrating out in front during his very important song in his first movie. I am sorry I caused him so much grief. If only we were able to read each other’s minds. Then again considering my dislike for his song and his group it is better that we couldn’t.”
The Beach Boys third number called “The Lonely Sea” was shot on the beach. According to Aron Kincaid, “It was supposed to be at night scene but it was filmed during the afternoon as a day for night shot. It was about ninety-seven degrees and we are all bundled up with sweat pouring down our backs.”
The Girls on the Beach is one of the better Beach Party clones enhanced by witty dialog, a pleasant, wholesome cast, and outstanding musical performances by the Beach Boys in their sole beach movie appearance. As expected from the title, there are lots of girls on the beach. Wisecracking Gail Gerber stands out as the ditzy, man-hungry Georgia. Her car scene near the end of the movie is one of the film’s funniest bits. Gail is a knockout in her skimpy swimsuit too but has stiff competition from Lana Wood as the girl in the gold lame bikini and Anna Capri as the curvaceous, busty Arlene. Noreen Corcoran is cute with dyed blonde hair, but she comes across stilted and uncomfortable clad in some of the ugliest swimsuits to ever appear on the California coast. Linda Marshall as Cynthia spends most of the movie ridiculously draped in a towel that she carries around with her. She’s the female Linus Van Pelt of the beach set. As the trio of lothario surfers, hunky Martin West is fine as the leader, handsome blonde Aron Kincaid shows comedic talent, and pretty boy Steve Rogers with his striking dark features and penetrating crystal blue eyes has a disarming charm about him.
As with the latter crop of low-budget Hollywood surf movies, surfing scenes are minimal though the guys are actually filmed out in the ocean sitting on their surfboards rather than in a tank in front of a blue screen on the studio lot. There are lots of scenes filmed at the seashore and the movie is strongly enhanced by the presence of the Beach Boys who elevate the movie due to their appearance (despite what Gail Gerber felt). Their performance of “Little Honda” is classic and that clip has been broadcast on music video outlets and used in practically every Beach Boys documentary. The Crickets and Ledley Gore do well, but unfortunately the viewing audience has to sit through two numbers of the girls masquerading badly as The Beatles while the crowd on screen goes wild in appreciation at the film’s climax. Disregarding this ending, The Girls on the Beach, though short on surfing scenes, is still one of the better copycat Beach Party movies as it is fast moving fun populated by fine looking young people some of whom can really act. It surely deserves a DVD release paired with its sister movie Beach Ball. This also came from the team of Roger Corman/Gene Corman/Bart Patton and featured Aron Kincaid and Gail Gerber.