HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO BEACH PARTY RAT PACKER ALBERTA NELSON!
The Eve Arden of the motorcycle set, the late wisecracking hazel-eyed blonde Glamazon Alberta Nelson never got her man as the ruff-and tumble biker chick loyal to inept Harvey Lembeck’s Eric Von Zipper in the Frankie and Annette beach movie extravaganzas.
Alberta Nelson began the decade with a Broadway flop. Playing a servant in the 1961 Broadway play Once There Was a Russian co-starring Walter Matthau, Roger C. Carmel, and Julie Newmar, the drama closed opening night. With nothing to lose, Nelson journeyed to Hollywood where she was cast in minor decorative dramatic roles in episodes of Thriller, The New Breed, and Dr. Kildare before Harvey Lembeck chose her to be his comic foil in Beach Party (1963). Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and their friends share a beach shack during spring break where their main concerns are surfin’, dancin’, and romancin’. Their idyll life is interrupted by Harvey Lembeck as the inept Eric Von Zipper and his motorcycle gang The Ratz and Mice who “hate those beach bums.” Nelson and redheaded Linda Rogers were the Mice—the only two girls in the gang. Even early on in the beach party cycle it looks as if Nelson’s character is resigned to the fact that Lembeck will never have eyes for her. Here he lusts after Annette but when she rebuffs him he turns to platinum blonde sexpot Eva Six. Even though she is always passed over, Nelson is a good sport and joins the gang for the end of the movie pie-throwing melee against the surfers. Her character began as the dependable yes-girl but as the bikers began to have more prominence in the films due to their popularity, Nelson delivered more wisecracks in her trademark screechy Brooklyn-style manner.
Nelson reprised her role in all the remaining beach movies from Bikini Beach (1964) through The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966). In between, she and Amedee Chabot play fitness nuts who hang around the bodybuilders in Muscle Beach Party (1964). The service comedy Sergeant Deadhead (1965) featured Nelson as a WAC and in the spy spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) starring Vincent Price in the title role, Alberta is a robot reject.
With the beach party movies dead at the box office, Nelson returned to television in 1966 with appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show. Impressing the producers of the Griffith series, they brought Alberta back later in the year to play Flora Malherbe, a somewhat naïve, warm-hearted waitress sweet on George Lindsay’s Goober. She played the role in three episodes and in “Emmett’s Retirement” on Mayberry, R.F.D. in 1969. In 1971, Alberta remarried and retired from show business moving with her new husband to Millcreek, Pennsylvania.
They had three children and Nelson spent her free time gardening and doing needle work until her death from cancer on April 29, 2006. She was sixty-eight years old.