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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.”

 

 

50 Years Ago Today…

The Mini-Skirt Mob opened starring Diane McBain as a leader of a gang of motorcycle mamas described as “hog straddling female animals on the prowl.” A baby doll blonde whose big screen career began during the days of Sandra Dee, Tuesday Weld, Carol Lynley, Connie Stevens, and Yvette Mimieux, Diane McBain immediately stood out from the pack. While some of them were typed as the viriginal ingenue or pristine girl next door, Diane excelled as the bad girl from a man-eating slut in Claudelle Inglish, to a boozy rich bitch in Parrish, to a uppity socialite in Mary, Mary, to a haughty Easterner in A Distant Trumpet, and not surprisingly Diane rarely got her man. Though some of her contemporaries complained and could not break free of the good girl roles, Diane wished she could play one. She said in my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema“These roles typed me almost forever as the bad girl. I wanted to play the ingenue. I could never understand why everyone wanted to play the bitch. Because when you go into society people view you as they see you on the screen. It’s horrible to be thought of as this messy, horrible person when you’re not!”

 

Though Diane McBain would seem to be perfectly cast as a beauty queen, she was excellent as the vicious leader of The Mini-Skirt Mob, the ultimate sixties drive-in movie.  It was directed by Maury Dexter and was an exciting variation on the typical biker films released in the late sixties. It was beautifully shot on location in the Arizona desert by cinematographer Arch R. Dalzell and features a winning musical score by Les Baxter. Spurned by her former boyfriend (Ross Hagen), McBain seeks revenge against him and his new bride (Sherry Jackson). She enlists her fellow cyclists to make life hell for the newlyweds. Their idyllic honeymoon is turned into a wild, beer-swilling melee after The Mini-Skirts crash it. The brawl ends with a wild motorcycle chase with Rondell swerving off a cliff. Later the gang causes the death of McCormack who, tiring of McBain’s sadistic ruthlessness tries to help the newlyweds escape. The film climaxes with McBain and Slate catching up with the fleeing couple. While Slate tries to run down Hagen, the women scuffle.  McBain ends up hanging over the side of a cliff with one hand held by Jackson. As Hagen goes to get help from the police, Jackson delivers her own brand of justice and lets McBain fall to her death.

Diane McBain recalled:

“I wasn’t an obvious choice to play this part. I think I was just the person with the recognizable name. That’s what the producers were looking for. After I agreed to do this movie I went out and learned how to ride a motorcycle.  A big motorcycle. When I arrived on the set they gave us these tiny scooters. It was the silliest bike you ever saw. I thought it was ridiculous to have this Mini-Skirt Mob on these small bikes. I knew then I was in trouble.”

“What attracted me to do this film was the role of Shayne. I thought it would be fun to play such a sadistic killer because women don’t usually get to play these sort of roles. The part also required me to do my own stunts. I rode my own motorcycle. I actually hung off the mountain attached to a cable. And I did the fight scenes with Sherry. We had been roommates at one time so we were fairly friendly. We had no problems doing those scenes. Actually, all the actors got along nicely which was great because we shot it on location. Patty McCormack was very nice. Jeremy Slate was friendly and professional with me but we didn’t get close or anything. He often plays the tough guy because he has those distinct features. Harry Dean Stanton was such a character, very intense with a spark in his eye. It always looked like he was keeping some funny little secret.”

 

54 Years Ago….

Viva Las Vegas opened starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret. Some feel (not me) this is the King’s best sixties movie and a lot of the credit went to sex kitten Ann-Margret who more than held her own singing and dancing opposite him. Their chemistry lit up the screen and continued once the cameras stopped rolling as Elvis famously romanced the redhead throughout the entire shoot only to fade out once production wrapped.

Elvis played Lucky Jackson a racecar driver in town to compete in the Vegas Grand Prix. Lucky is immediately attracted to Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret) a red-headed stunner who wiggles her way into his garage with car trouble. Lucky’s racing rival Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova) also flips for her charms. Guess who wins the big race and the girl?

Christopher Riordan recalled making the movie in my book Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies:

“Elvis was delightful—right from the very beginning. He was the kind of man that if he saw that you had some kind of talent or had dedication or what have you, he’d zero in on that immediately…Ann-Margret is shy, but a sweet, sweet lady and not at all pretentious. She was having a grand time on Viva Las Vegas even though she worked really hard on this. I wound up working with Ann-Margret two more times.”

 

57 Years Ago Yesterday…

Parrish opened starring everybody ‘s wet dream Troy Donahue with not 1 but 3 leading ladies – Connie Stevens as a gold digging slut, Diane McBain as booze-swilling rich bitch, and Sharon Hugueny as the (yawn) good girl. All set in the tobacco fields of Connecticut!?!

After their success with A Summer Place (1959), star Troy Donahue reunited with director Delmer Daves for Parrish. The Golden Boy (who stepped in after reportedly Warren Beatty turned the part down) plays Parrish who reunites with his mother Claudette Colbert working as a governess for rich tobacco grower Dean Jagger in Connecticut’s Tobacco Valley. For me, Parrish is the most entertaining of Warner Bros.’ early Sixties romances (Susan Slade, Claudelle Inglish, Rome Adventure, etc.) that they released featuring their contract players. Donahue was one handsome man and never looked better though he seems so out of place in a tobacco field. He is paired with Warner Bros.’ top two starlets both going over-the-top with their melodramatic roles though under stated as compared to the hammy Karl Malden as the meanest richest tobacco grower in the valley making Parrish a camp tour-de-force.

Connie Stevens beat out Tuesday Weld to play a slutty farm girl who wears false eyelashes and makeup while toiling in the steaming tobacco fields of Connecticut in the dog days of August. While new boy in town Troy Donahue is attracted to her, she spends her nights with rich married Hampton Fancher. After she gets knocked up, her popularity plummets as Fancher deserts her and Troy only wants to be friends leaving poor Connie to raise her baby alone.

In contrast, Diane McBain played tobacco farmer Dean Jagger’s spoiled, willful daughter who dumps teen dream Troy Donahue when he refuses an offer to work for wealthy tycoon Karl Malden. McBain marries the rich man’s younger weak-willed son and their dysfunctional unhappy marriage causes her to drink and sleep around. Realizing money can buy lots of Jack Daniels but can’t buy you happiness, she makes a desperate pathetic attempt to reunite with Troy who rejects her and chooses Malden’s much nicer rebellious daughter Sharon Hugueny.

Commenting on making Parrish in my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema, Diane McBain said:

“I like Parrish.  It was fun to do. I played my first movie bad girl in this film and it typed me almost forever. Troy Donahue was a star at that time and that’s what they wanted. Troy and I got along very well. He’s a good guy. Perhaps Connie Stevens and I should have been rivals but we were friendly.

This was Claudette Colbert’s swan song in the film business. I’m sure she wanted to make a good impression. I was a novice actress. Even though I had done some things in television, I still was quite green. I didn’t sleep a wink the night before the first day of shooting. When it came time for me to say my lines I just froze. I couldn’t remember any of the lines I learned. In all honesty, I ruined the scene. It was pure terror for me. Colbert and the director got very upset with me. I think she looked upon me with some sort of disdain. I was very aware that she was not happy and she had every right to be unhappy. I swore that I would never let that happen again. And I haven’t.  It was the only time.”

 

49 Years Ago Today…

the violent biker film The Cycle Savages opened starring Bruce Dern and Melody Patterson of F Troop fame. Most fans don’t know that after playing Wrangler Jane, Melody had a brief drive-in movie career also appearing in druggie/hippie/biker flick The Angry Breed and the horror film Blood and Lace.

In The Cycle Savages, Patterson gives a convincing performance as Lea a troubled young woman trying to go straight while keeping her distance from her former biker gang. An artist and neighbor named Romko (Chris Robinson) gets on the bad side of crazed gang leader Keeg (an intense Dern) for sketching him and his outlaw bikers as they terrorized the patrons of a hamburger drive-in. Keeg is determined to retrieve Romko’s sketches because they could incriminate him and his renegade roughnecks in a white slavery operation they run. They slash Romko’s midsection and Lea is forced to keep him away from his apartment. To stall Romko, Lea allows the artist to draw her nude while the gang ransacks his pad looking for his drawings. Lea falls for Romko and they make love but when the police come to investigate his attack they reveal that Lea was a decoy for the gang and was pressured to distract him. The bikers capture Romko and torture him by squeezing his hand in a vise. A pistol-packing Lea arrives to save him but she lacks the courage to shoot anyone. As the police close in, the gun is grabbed by biker chick Sandy (Maray Ayres), who chases a fleeing Keeg and shoots him dead.

Recalling the movie in my book Drive-In Dream Girls, the late Melody Patterson remarked,

“Bruce Dern was wonderful and an absolutely an exciting actor. Chris Robinson and I had the same manager so we knew each other pretty well. I loved the director [Bill Brame] because he was an editor and knew what he was doing.

I had a better experience working on The Cycle Savages than The Angry Breed though I can’t say it was a better movie. I was in the midst of my Method acting period and it seemed like everybody was taking long pauses before saying their lines. I didn’t like doing nudity but I agreed to do a back shot and a love scene. That is when I found out that I had a curvature of the spine. My mother was on the set to make sure everything was on the up and up. It was done with the utmost care and on a closed set. What I found amusing the most was that the sketch of me drawn by Chris’ character was a lot bustier than I was.”

 

 

51 Years Ago Today…

the late-in-the cycle beach movie Catalina Caper opened. Scuba diving college students led by Tommy Kirk on summer break get involved with art forgers (Sue Casey and Del Moore), Greek mobsters (Lyle Waggoner), and a stolen priceless Chinese artifact. Sticking to formula there are the bikini-clad beauties (Venita Wolf), barechested beach boys (Michael Blodgett and Brian Cutler), musical guest stars (Little Richard, Cascades, and Carol Connors), and inane comedy bits. Plus Ulla Stromstedt from the Flipper TV series hidden under an unflattering dark wig definitively lives up to the nickname “Creepy Girl” bestowed upon her by the gang at Mystery Science TheaterCatalina Caper gets credit for trying to infuse the beach-party formula with more of a plot but the execution of it coupled with adult actors who are not funny in the least makes this one of the genre’s biggest stinkers.

Cinematographer Ted V. Mikels commented in my book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies:

“The actors were wonderful.  I had known Tommy Kirk because I shot a movie at his parent’s place for my dear friend Rafael Campos. Del Moore was a really nice man—very congenial and easy to work with. I don’t remember very much about Sue Casey but I do recall that Venita Wolf was a pretty little girl. At the end of the day, when the sun was gone and we had to retire to the hotel we’d all have dinner together. It was a very enjoyable experience for me.  I came back to Catalina a few years later to shoot The Doll Squad [starring Francine York and Anthony Eisley]”

Sue Casey did not recall much about her co-stars in Catalina Caper and jokingly remarked in my book Drive-In Dream Girls:

“Lyle Waggoner was so nice to work with and my children really liked him. But I don’t remember a thing about the young kids in this.”

 

49 Years Ago Today…

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium opened. One of a very few movies starring Suzanne Pleshette that I like (others being Rome Adventure and The Birds). Heard that she thought herself a bigger and more importnat movie star than she actually was. Inspired by a New Yorker cartoon and a television documentary, the amusing film directed by Mel Stuart starred Ian McShane as a charming womanizing tour guide who shuffles a group of wacky American tourists (Pleshette, Mildred Natwick, Michael Constantine, Sandy Baron, Norman, Fell, Reva Rose, etc.) around Europe.  Drive-In Dream Girl Hilarie Thompson was cast as the perky Shelly Ferguson (described by Thompson as being “a silly little girl trying to be hip”). Her parents played by Murray Hamilton and Peggy Cass bring Shelly along on their vacation to keep her from having sex with her boyfriend back home. But to their chagrin, Shelly falls for a young hippie named Bo (Luke Halpin) in Amsterdam.

Recalling making the movie, Hilarie Thompson said in Drive-In Dream Girls:

“This was complete magic but Mel Stuart was a tough director. He was very hard on poor Luke Halpin. I felt badly for Luke who was a sweet guy. I never had any trouble with tyrants so Mel and I got along fine. To be fair to Mel, he must have been going crazy traveling across Europe with a troupe of actors. Stan Margulies was the producer and he was a wonderful man.

Making If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium was incredible because we filmed throughout Europe for three months. I was nineteen at the time and had not moved out of my parents’ home yet. They flew me to England all by myself. We started there and went to Amsterdam, Brussels, Luxembourg, Venice, and Rome. It was first class all the way and an unbelievable experience. Everybody was delightful to work with. I hung out mostly with the younger cast members but I did enjoy the older actors as well. I was particularly friendly with Sandy Baron. He was very serious and intense about his work. Marty Ingels was just having a good old time and Michael Constantine was a darling man—I loved him.”

 

51 Years Ago Today…

It’s a Bikini World opened. One of the last of the 60s Hollywood beach movies, it starred Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and Suzie Kaye. It is noted for being directed by a woman, Stephanie Rothman, and features an interesting premise, a great lineup of musical talent, and a spirited cast but the extremely low budget production values hamper the movie. There’s a new beach babe (Walley) on the shore and when she rebukes the advances of the local Casanova (Kirk) he masquerades as his nerdy brother to get even with her. Meanwhile he competes against her as his real persona in a serious of athletic competitions. It was very novel then to feature in a film aimed at teenagers a determined independent-thinking heroine. This was years before the Women’s Liberation movement and this Feminist slant shows that Stephanie Rothman was a director and screenwriter ahead of her time.

Deborah Walley who by the mid-sixties matured into a shapely young woman plays the determined Delilah with spunk and vigor while Tommy Kirk makes for a good conceited foe in their battle-of-the-sexes.  However, Kirk’s Casanova persona surrounded by bikini-clad beach babes quickly turns laughable every time he takes off his shirt.  He is by far one of the skinniest runts on the beach, especially compared with blonde hunk Jim Begg, and should have been mandated to pump some iron at the gym before filming began. Bob Pickett plays the Jody McCrea/Deadhead best friend role with a big grin and a droll touch. Bikini-clad Suzie Kaye now sporting blonde hair delivers some amusing lines with flair.

As with most of the later beach movies the musical acts make this worth while viewing. The groups all perform their own hit records. Standing out are Eric Burdon with The Animals in their post-Alan Price lineup doing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which became an anthem for Vietnam War protestors, and garage rock band The Castaways, looking all of sixteen, singing their lone hit, “Liar, Liar.” The Gentrys, sounding like Paul Revere and the Raiders, sing “Spread It on Thick,” which should have been a big hit but it never cracked the Top 40.

Interviewed for my book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies, the late Bobby Pickett and late Suzie Kaye recalled what it was like working for a female director a rarity during the sixties.

Pickett: “Stephanie was very pleasant, easy to get along with and very smart. She was just a pleasure to work with. Everybody towed the line with her. She wore riding pants a lot and looked like a female Cecil B. DeMille. Stephanie took bikini beach movies to a higher level with Deborah Walley’s character trying to best her male antagonist in a series of events.”

Kaye: “It was nice being directed by a woman. I felt more comfortable. I was awe struck because to me it was magical to have a female director. The film was still exploitation but Rothman did it in a more wholesome form—I didn’t do anything embarrassing. She would let the scene play.”