Beach party film

Beach Party movies were an American 1960s genre of feature films which often starred Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. They were originally intended as a low-budget imitation of both the Elvis Presley musical and the Doris Day romantic comedy, aimed at the teen market, but they ended up taking on a life of their own. The "classic" series was produced by American International Pictures, and imitated in turn by numerous other studios.

Annette Funicello was still under contract to Walt Disney in 1963 and Disney's lawyers threatened to sue AIP if their now voluptuous star appeared in "Beach Party", or any of the other films, in a bikini. AIP capitulated — an unimaginable act for the company prior to this, before the stakes were raised. Annette would not only not wear a bikini in the films, she would spend a surprising amount of her screen time repressing the sexuality of the other kids, especially in the first two pictures. It an odd angle indeed for the normally permissive and exploitative AIP.

Few if any of the principal actors were actually teenagers. Frankie Avalon was in his mid-twenties, married and had children when he made "Beach Blanket Bingo".

Many of the movies were made at Paradise Cove in Malibu, California. To meet the release schedule, most of the movies had to be filmed during the winter months—when hardly anyone wanted to run around a beach in a swimsuit, or go in the water.


The storylines typically revolved around boyfriend and girlfriend Frankie and Annette trying to make one another jealous with newcomers, as they and their friends had adventures (on and off the beach), with someone breaking into song every few minutes. The main cast usually had running roles (though their character names sometimes changed from picture to picture), and with the exception of "Muscle Beach Party", the villains of the story were usually biker Eric Von Zipper (played by comic actor Harvey Lembeck as a parody of Marlon Brando in "The Wild One") and his inept gang the Rat Pack, or "Rats & Mice" (which included Alberta Nelson, of "The Andy Griffith Show").

Cameo actors

Another feature to the series was its unending series of cameo appearances by longtime actors (such as Buster Keaton, Vincent Price, Elsa Lanchester, Boris Karloff, Dorothy Lamour, and Peter Lorre in his last film appearance), plus musical guest-stars like Stevie Wonder, Donna Loren, The Supremes, The Kingsmen, and surf-n-car groups The Pyramids, The Hondells, and Dick Dale and The Del-Tones. Original songs performed by the cast were largely written by Gary Usher and Roger Christian, or by Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner.

Production staff

Toni Basil served as choreographer for many of the movies' dance sequences (also appearing onscreen), and several future or up-and-coming stars (Teri Garr, Don Rickles, Bobbi Shaw, Dan Haggerty, Meredith MacRae, and members of the Beach Boys) appeared in supporting roles or as extras. Silent-movie star Buster Keaton had featured roles in several of the movies. Don Weis and William Asher directed most of the series, with Asher's then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery making a voice cameo in "Bikini Beach", and appearing on camera in "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini".

End of the genre

The final entry in the original series was "The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini", released in 1966. The end credits for another AIP Avalon comedy, "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine" (1965) reveal that the original title planned for this film was "The Girl in the Glass Bikini", and that Funicello and Avalon were slated to appear. However, Funicello and Avalon both passed (appearing instead in the car-racing themed "Fireball 500"), and the leads in "The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini" were played by Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley, with an almost all-new supporting cast (including singer Nancy Sinatra). This time the "formula" did not work, the movie bombed, and the series was retired by AIP. "Fireball 500" was followed by another racing film, "Thunder Alley", also starring Funicello.

Avalon and Funicello starred in Paramount Pictures "Back to the Beach" in 1987, playing off their original roles and subsequent careers. The movie became a hit, and there was talk of making a sequel, but with the beginning of Funicello's trouble with multiple sclerosis, this never came to be.

The 1996 movie "That Thing You Do!" touches briefly on the phenomenon, with the Wonders making an appearance in a fictional beach party movie, "Weekend at Party Pier". A 2001 episode of "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" ("Beach Blanket Bizarro") also paid homage to the series, with Avalon appearing as himself.

The "classic series"

*"Beach Party" (1963) (also starring Bob Cummings, Dorothy Malone and Morey Amsterdam)
*"Muscle Beach Party" (1963) (with Peter Lupus, Luciana Paluzzi and Buddy Hackett)
*"Bikini Beach" (1964) (with Keenan Wynn and Martha Hyer)
*"Pajama Party" (1964) (with Jesse White and Ben Lessy)
*"Beach Blanket Bingo" (1965) (with Paul Lynde, Linda Evans, Marta Kristen and Timothy Carey)
*"How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" (1965) (with Mickey Rooney, Beverly Adams, Len Lesser, Irene Tsu and Brian Donlevy)
*"The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini" (1966) (with Basil Rathbone, Benny Rubin and Francis X. Bushman)

The 1965 movie "Ski Party" (with Dwayne Hickman, Yvonne Craig, Lesley Gore and James Brown) is also notable for employing many of the same actors and schticks, only transplanted to a ski resort in the Sawtooth National Forest.

Regular cast members included John Ashley, Luree Holmes, Jody McCrea, Salli Sachse, Michael Nader, Candy Johnson, Johnny Fain, Valora Noland, Andy Romano, Susan Hart, Jerry Brutsche and Linda Rogers.

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