Connie Francis remembers when one of the first beach party movies, Where the Boys Are, set off a virtual tsunami in the Florida town where it was filmed. “Fort Lauderdale wasn’t prepared at all for what happened when it was released in 1960 — 75,000 kids inundated the town and were sleeping on the beach,” Connie, 80, exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “The National Guard, Coast Guard and Florida Highway Patrol had to be called in. The townsfolk wanted to either give me the key to the city or assassinate me!”
All across the country, a killer wave of beach party films had a similar impact when they came crashing down on ’60s youth culture, sending hoards of teens to drive-ins for some escapist fun. Now, 60 years later, stars share their secrets from the sets. As Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies author Tom Lisanti tells Closer, it all started with Kathy Kohner, a real-life girl nicknamed Gidget who traded food with Malibu teens to have them teach her how to surf. Her dad’s novel Gidget was turned into a hit 1959 movie with Sandra Dee and a 1965-’66 series with Sally Field. “It was the public’s first exposure to surfing,” Tom says. “And they loved it.”
The 1960 spring break comedy Where the Boys Are kept the beach gold rush going. “My father said, ‘It’s a dirty movie,’ and didn’t want me to make it, but I did to spite him,” Connie reveals to Closer. Things evened out, she adds, when her costar Dolores Hart became a nun years later!
The genre really took off in 1963, when American International Pictures decided to revive ’50s juvenile delinquent pics. But after they approached frequent I Love Lucy director and beach fan William Asher, he suggest- ed filming teens hanging on the sand with musical interludes and Old Hollywood star cameos instead. he got to work directing 1963’s Beach Party, 1964’s Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach, and 1965’s Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.
To draw in the youth audience, he recruited teen idols Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, who’d previously dated. “A lot of times, we had to cut a scene because she was laughing so much!” Frankie, 78, tells Closer. “For some reason, I tickled her funny bone.” But not her belly button — in a 1994 memoir, Annette claims she covered her navel in the first film “out of respect” for her boss Walt Disney.
The actors avoided sunburns by “filming in full-body makeup” in winter, Bobbie Shaw Chance, 75, tells Closer. And the reason her How to Stuff a Wild Bikini costar Annette didn’t wear a bikini in the film? She was around five months pregnant at the time! On the flip side, hunks like Aron Kincaid (Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine) were forced to shave their chests to show more skin.
As for on-set romances, it was all “quite innocent,” says Donna Loren, 72, who appeared in several beach party films. She once caught costar Annette and her soon-to-be husband Jack Gilardi spooning off camera “trying to get some time alone, but it was sweet,” she recalls. And Connie says TV and Movie Screen magazine ran a story about her supposed love affair with her Where the Boys Are costar George Hamilton, but “I didn’t see George except on the set!”
The stars all had fun, perhaps none more than the vets brought in for comic relief. “The most partying would be when Don Rickles and other comics would gather in their own little club,” Donna recalls. “You didn’t want to mess with them!” And letting teens feel they were at a real party was what made these silly films classics. “When people left theaters,” Connie said, “they felt upbeat and happy.”
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