Party with Frankie & Annette: The 7 Official Beach Party Movies

molchanovdmitry/iStock via Getty Images
molchanovdmitry/iStock via Getty Images

In the 1960s, a unique genre of movies came into the world: the "beach party movies." The inevitable ingredients included several "teenagers" (using that term loosely), surfing, the beach, a few token adults thrown in, and, of course, a wafer-thin plot line.

The basic premise was fairly simple: a very innocent boy and girl are in love (in a wholesome way) only to encounter some threat from the outside (of the beach) world, either an adult villain, a handsome young fellow who tries to attract the girl away from the guy, or a hot-looking young chick who tries to attract the guy away from the girl.

The plot line is played out, a few songs by '60s artists are thrown in, add some slapstick gags, and a nice, simple resolution in which, above all, the guy and the girl realize that nothing can ever come between them. As simplistic and formulaic as it all sounds, the low-budget beach party movies were tremendously popular in the early to mid-1960s. Teenagers all over America flocked to see the surfing, the mildly amusing jokes and gags, and—let's be honest here—the very healthy young people in their extremely well-fitting swim suits. (The films were usually filmed in Paradise Cove in Malibu, CA, in the dead of winter to fit their future release schedule dates. The poor actors and actresses had to frolic on the beach in swimsuits, freezing in the cold weather.)

Although there were many spin-offs and rip-offs (movie makers never miss a chance to cash in on another's successful formula), the "classic" beach party films were the ones made by American-International Studios and usually directed by William Asher, a total of seven films.

1. BEACH PARTY (1963)

In 1963, Beach Party, the first official "beach party" movie, was released and became a box-office smash. It starred the most popular beach party couple: Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. (Oddly, Frankie always played a character named "Frankie," but Annette was inevitable dubbed either "Didi" or "Dolores.") Frankie was already well into his twenties when the film was made, but played a "teen" for the next several years. Annette was fresh from her days as a Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club with Walt Disney and became the epitome of the sweet, wholesome beach girl. According to Annette, old Walt was severely against her even donning a bikini, as he thought it would tarnish her image, as well as Disney's. (I can't neglect to point out the fact that Annette's bikini is hardly "skimpy;" it is hilariously big and full, almost a one-piece swimsuit with an inch or two sliced out of the middle.)

Nonetheless, the fact is that Annette, more than any other single figure, made the bikini acceptable and popular with American women and untold women and girls all over the world. From its introduction in 1946 to when Annette began donning bikinis in the beach party movies, bikini sales in America actually rose an incredible 3000 percent. The films also helped generate a huge spike in the mid-'60s in the sale of surfboards to guys.

2. MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (1964)

Beach Party was followed quickly by three more beach party films in 1964: Muscle Beach Party, Pajama Party. The first two were pretty much just more formula films starring Frankie and Annette. The main claim to fame for Muscle Beach Party is that it was the official big screen debut of "little" Stevie Wonder. The beach party films became showcases for other music legends, too, such as the Beach Boys, Little Richard, the Animals, and the Supremes.

3. BIKINI BEACH (1964)

The third movie, Bikini Beach, has a slight (very uneasy) twist: Frankie plays dual roles, that of "Frankie" and also a bizarre "rock star" known as "The Potato Bug." Obviously a take-off of the new musical sensations, The Beatles (beetles, potato bug... get the gag?), Frankie's "Potato Bug" had a mustache, glasses, and a very cheesy British accent. In the end, of course, Frankie's charm triumph's over the "threat" of "The Potato Bug" stealing Annette away.

One indispensable figure of almost all the beach party films, including Bikini Beach, was Harvey Lembeck in his memorable role as Eric Von Zipper. Lembeck, a marvelous character actor, played Von Zipper as a middle-aged satire of Marlon Brando's motorcycle-riding hood in black leather from his classic movie The Wild One (1953). As Von Zipper, Lembeck played the teens' adult nemesis, a bumbling clown who always got the worst of it in the end. He gave the films their single most memorable sight gag with "the finger," a paralyzing index finger being forced against his temple, which left him completely immobile.

4. PAJAMA PARTY (1964)

The third beach party movie of 1964, Pajama Party, is notable mainly because former Disney actor Tommy Kirk took over the "Frankie" role as Annette's boyfriend. Frankie makes only a few brief cameos, and Kirk is definitely a weak fill-in. As if poor Tommy Kirk didn't have a hard enough time fitting in, in Pajama Party he plays a Martian (!) who comes to Earth, interacts with the resident teens, and is justifiably confused. Oh, and look quickly to spot a teenaged Teri Garr as one of the girl dancers buried in the sand on the beach.

5. BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965)

The beach party movie genre reached its apogee in 1965 with what is almost unanimously regarded as the finest beach party film, Beach Blanket Bingo. The film is both funny and, at times, quite touching. (I swear!) It features Frankie singing his best beach party song, "These are the Good Times," and also features a young Don Rickles with a glimpse of his famous insulting nightclub act. Paul Lynde acts as comedic relief and, believe it or not, the indomitable Buster Keaton is present to do a few brilliant pratfalls. (Keaton actually appeared in several of the beach party films and was, as always, brilliant and hilarious.) Also featured in the cast is a very young and drop dead gorgeous Linda Evans playing singing sensation Sugar Kane. Marta Kristen (of TV's Lost in Space) plays a mermaid named Lorelei who has a platonic romantic encounter with the beach party films' resident goofball, "Bonehead" (played by a likable Jody McCrea). Beach Blanket Bingo is a perfect time capsule of the pre-Beatles 1960s, although it premiered after their arrival in the U.S.

6. HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI (1965)

In 1965's How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Frankie appears for only 6 minutes. (He may have been getting bored; he was also growing a bit long in the tooth to play the perennial chipper "teenage" surfer boy.) In his place is Dwayne Hickman (of "Dobie Gillis" TV fame) but, like Tommy Kirk, Hickman just can't fill Frankie's shoes.

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini does give us the treat of seeing Mickey Rooney camp it up as "Peachy" Keane, an ad executive, with a very fetching Beverly Adams as his protege. According to Rooney, his agent gave him hell for accepting the role; he had been approached by American-International directly and his agent had no part of the deal. Rooney says he was paid well, hung out with a lot of fun kids, and got to listen to rock 'n' roll all day. The money he earned probably came in handy, too, as Rooney had recently declared bankruptcy.

7. GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI(1966)

The final classic beach party film was 1966's Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Though there was no Frankie, no Annette, no surfing, and no beaches, this very bizarre movie is still considered the last of the "beach party" films. Featuring the great Boris Karloff in one of his final roles, the movie is about a bikini-sporting ghost who is a guardian angel to the female lead, Deborah Walley. Walley and Tommy Kirk replace Frankie and Annette, who had, by this time, outgrown their "Frankie and Dolores" roles. This "golden turkey" is pleasant only for the lonely guys who want to stare at a gorgeous ghost running around in a bikini. (OK, guilty as charged.)

With Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, the end of the beach party movies had finally arrived.

This Damn Fine Twin Peaks Box Set Is the Only One Fans Will Ever Need

Amazon
Amazon

Fans of David Lynch’s three-season drama Twin Peaks know there’s quite a lot to excavate. The series, which ran from 1990 to 1991 on ABC and returned for a one-season engagement on Showtime in 2017, has been a perpetual source of ambiguity, red herrings, and the downright inexplicable.

Now there’s a centralized hub of all things Peaks to dwell on. Twin Peaks: From Z to A is a Blu-ray box set containing all episodes of the original series; 1992’s feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me; 2017's Twin Peaks: The Return; an international version of the 1990 pilot with additional footage; as well as an abundance of new and archival material totaling 20 hours in length.

The box for the 'Twin Peaks: From Z to A' Blu-ray DVD set is pictured
Amazon

Inside the package, which is illustrated with the Douglas firs that are part of the show’s iconography, are mini-figures of Special Agent Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer, played in the show by Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee, respectively. The box acts as a diorama of sorts and opens to reveal the Red Room, a location where many of the show’s most surreal moments took place. A series of three-by-five index cards provide backdrops of key scenes. The only thing the set doesn’t have is Lynch’s hand-drawn map of the show’s Washington location, but you can find that here.

The set is limited to 25,000 copies. It retails for $139.99 on Amazon and is due for release on December 10.

[h/t Newsweek]

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Unraveling the Many Mysteries of Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline'

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

The story of Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" has it all: love, baseball, Kennedys, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s pop’s answer to the national anthem, and as any karaoke belter or Boston Red Sox fan will tell you, it’s way easier to sing than "The Star-Spangled Banner." As the song celebrates its 50th birthday this year, now’s a good time—so good, so good, so good—to dig into the rich history of a tune people will still be singing in 2069.

"Where it began, I can’t begin to knowing," Diamond sings in the song’s iconic opening lines. Except the "where" part of this story is actually pretty simple: Diamond wrote "Sweet Caroline" in a Memphis hotel room in 1969 on the eve of a recording session at American Sound Studio. By this point in his career, Diamond had established himself as a fairly well-known singer-songwriter with two top-10 hits—"Cherry Cherry" and "Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon"—to his name. He’d also written "I’m a Believer," which The Monkees took to #1 in late 1966.

 

The "who," as in the identity of the "Caroline" immortalized in the lyrics, is the much juicier question. In 2007, Diamond revealed that he was inspired to write the song by a photograph of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy, that he saw in a magazine in the early ‘60s, when he was a "young, broke songwriter."

"It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony," Diamond told the Associated Press. "It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there.” Years later, in that Memphis hotel room, the song was finally born.

Neil Diamond sings the National Anthem prior to Super Bowl XXI between the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos at the Rose Bowl on January 25, 1987 in Pasadena, California
George Rose/Getty Images

Perhaps because it’s a little creepy, Diamond kept that tidbit to himself for years and only broke the news after performing the song at Kennedy’s 50th birthday in 2007. "I’m happy to have gotten it off my chest and to have expressed it to Caroline," Diamond said. "I thought she might be embarrassed, but she seemed to be struck by it and really, really happy."

The plot thickened in 2014, however, as Diamond told the gang at NBC’s TODAY that the song is really about his first wife, Marsha. "I couldn’t get Marsha into the three-syllable name I needed,” Diamond said. "So I had Caroline Kennedy’s name from years ago in one of my books. I tried ‘Sweet Caroline,’ and that worked."

It certainly did. Released in 1969, "Sweet Caroline" rose to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the decade that followed, it was covered by Elvis Presley, soul great Bobby Womack, Roy Orbison, and Frank Sinatra. Diamond rates Ol’ Blue Eyes’ version the best of the bunch.

"He did it his way," Diamond told The Sunday Guardian in 2011. "He didn't cop my record at all. I've heard that song by a lot of people and there are a lot of good versions. But Sinatra's swingin', big-band version tops them all by far."

 

Another key question in the "Sweet Caroline" saga is "why"—why has the song become a staple at Fenway Park in Boston, a city with no discernible connection to Diamond, a native of Brooklyn?

It’s all because of a woman named Amy Tobey, who worked for the Sox via BCN Productions from 1998 to 2004. During those years, Tobey had the wicked awesome job of picking the music at Sox games. She noticed that "Sweet Caroline" was a crowd-pleaser, and like any good baseball fan, she soon developed a superstition. If the Sox were up, and Tobey thought they were going to win the game, she’d play the song somewhere in between the seventh and ninth innings.

"I actually considered it like a good luck charm," Tobey told The Boston Globe in 2005. "Even if they were just one run [ahead], I might still do it. It was just a feel." It became a regular thing in 2002, when Fenway’s new management asked Tobey to play "Sweet Caroline" during the eighth inning of every home game, regardless of the score.

At first, Tobey was worried that mandatory Diamond would lead to bad luck on the actual diamond. But that wasn’t the case, as the Sox won the World Series in 2004, ending the "Curse of the Bambino" and giving Beantown its first title since 1918. In 2010, Diamond made a surprise appearance at Fenway to perform "Sweet Caroline" during the Red Sox's season opener against the New York Yankees. He wore a Sox cap and a sports coat emblazoned with the message "Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn."

 

A different mood greeted Diamond when he returned to Fenway on April 20, 2013, just five days after bombings at the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured nearly 300 others. "What an honor it is for me to be here today," Diamond told the crowd. "I bring love from the whole country." He then sang along with the ‘69 recording of the song, leading the crowd in the "Ba! Ba! Ba!" and "So good! So good! So good!" ad-libs that have essentially become official lyrics. Diamond also donated all the royalties he received from the song that week, as downloads increased by 597 percent.

The Red Sox aren't the only sports team to have basked in the glory of "Sweet Caroline." The song has become popular with both the Penn State Nittany Lions and Iowa State Cyclones football squads and has even crossed the Atlantic to become part of the music rotation for England's Castleford Tigers crew team and Britain's Oxford United Football Club.

Over the last five decades, millions of people have had their lives touched by "Sweet Caroline" in one way or another. The enduring popularity must be a pleasant surprise for Diamond, who had no idea he’d written a classic back in 1969. "Neil didn't like the song at all," Tommy Cogbill, a bass player at American Sound Studio, said in an interview for the 2011 book Memphis Boys. "I actually remember him not liking it and not wanting it to be a single."

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