In Beach Party, Frankie Avalon carries Annette Funicello over the threshold of their seaside bungalow at the start of what he hopes will be a romantic getaway for two. The mood is shattered when he discovers that she’s invited all of their friends to join them! Teenage shenanigans, crazy misunderstandings, and lots of singing and dancing ensue.

In 1963, Beach Party captivated young audiences nationwide with an escapist fantasy about the so-called “wild mating habits” of Southern California teens. “We never thought it would have such success and longevity,” Frankie, 82, admitted at the recent TCM Classic Film Festival. Filming Beach Party “was an absolute ball, and I think it comes off on screen,” he adds. “People loved it.”

Frankie began his career as a singer with several chart-topping hits, including “Venus,” “Why” and “I’ll Wait for You,” and met his future leading lady, Annette, while performing at a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars show in 1959. “It was at the Hollywood Bowl,” Frankie said. “Of course, she was the cutest thing.” The pair went out on a date for pizza, but lost touch until they reunited as costars on Beach Party. “We did our first scene together, and it just happened,” Frankie recalled. “We really became friends, not just on screen.”

Frankie Avalon Beach Party
Photo by Aip/Kobal/Shutterstock

Beach Party shot at breakneck speed at California surfing spots, including Malibu, Newport, Balboa and Laguna. “We made those films, believe it or not, in 15 days! We’d do 30 or 40 setups in a day,” he said, adding that the outdoor scenes were rushed and uncomfortable. “We were on the beach on freezing days,” he remembered. “And we didn’t have the technology of today. When the sun would start to go down, we couldn’t shoot anymore. It was one or two takes and that was it.”

For the musical numbers, the performers learned the lyrics and choreography on the fly. “We’d go to the next soundstage. They would have a piano player there,” Frankie said. “Then we’d go back in, do the scene and practice. It was like a stage show.”

Despite the pressure to get it all done fast, Frankie and Annette remained in sync. “We spent 10, 12, 14 hours a day together and never had a disagreement,” he marveled. “She was absolutely a professional.” The pair appeared in five of the seven original Beach Party films, and their warm friendship lasted a lifetime. “We became such friends that I am godfather to her daughter and her husband is godfather to my oldest son,” Frankie said.

The friends reunited for 1987’s Back to the Beach, a sequel that Frankie was instrumental in getting off the ground. In it, their grown characters grapple with middle age, marriage and teenage children of their own. During production, Annette didn’t let on that she had been diagnosed with MS, but her husband, Glen Holt, confided in Frankie as they set out on a live performance tour. “I never said anything to her, but I knew she was suffering and in pain. She was such a trouper, and we had a good time doing the shows together,” said Frankie of his friend, who passed away in 2013. “I miss her dearly.”