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(June 2004)

Summer Movies - 1964!
In a more innocent time, summer time was beach time with Annette and Frankie. How we loved these guys. Annette as MouseketerAfter beginning show business careers; Frankie Avalon as a child prodigy trumpet player and then as one of the first “manufactured” rock and roll teen idols, Annette Funicello as the prettiest, sweetest and sexiest thing to come out of the original Mickey Mouse Club. Together they made six very popular beach movies for American-International Pictures (AIP).

How these movies were cranked out! The first one in 1963- Beach Party: from a budget of a little over $300 thousand, it grossed more than $4,000,000! American-International knew they were onto something. Beach Party set the formula for all the rest- scads of pretty girls in bikinis, rock and roll music from hot new musicians (Dick Dale and The Del Tones), established stars somewhat pass their prime (Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone), very funny character actors- Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper- a leather-clad, Brando-like biker bad-boy  without a brain or a clue – and of course Annette and Frankie, the most chaste lovers on god’s green earth.

In 1964 AIP produced three more beach party movies. That’s three feature films in one year! It makes us tired just to think about it.

Beach Party1. Muscle Beach Party in March 1964 with more beautiful, bikini-wearing babes, music from Dick Dale, Donna Loren, and a youngster with an enormous future; Stevie Wonder, then known as Little Stevie Wonder. Peter Lorre, the established star from earlier era, had a brief cameo as Dr. Strangdour. And Frankie and Annette.

2. Bikini Beach was released in July 1964. Yes, yes, girls in bikinis. Stevie Wonder providing the pop and Harvey Lembeck back as Eric Von Zipper and even funnier than before. Perhaps this is a good point to talk about the beautiful Annette Funicello with the centerfold figure who never, ever wore a bikini. Annette’s story is that Walt Disney, who gave her her first job and was like a second father, had ‘suggested’ that it would be best for her career to remain demurely covered and Annette had promised. The truth is Annette was still under contract to Disney who gave permission for her to work for AIP with the contractual agreement that she would not appear in a bikini or expose her navel.  Bikini Beach was also the first of two appearances by Timothy Carey as the very scary South Dakota Slim. Carey had a dead-pan demeanor that, combined with his imposing bulk, provided a truly frightening counterpoint to the comedy and music.

3. Pajama Party came out for the holiday season in November 1964. Harvey Lembeck continued as the hilariously dumb Eric Von Zipper, the mean biker from booboo land, Donna Loren was back to sing, and the over-the-hill actors were Dorothy Lamour, Buster Keaton and Elsa Lancaster. This movie was a little different in that it had a slight science-fiction tinge with Tommy Kirk as a Martian sent to scout Earth for invasion, and instead of bikinis- all the gorgeous gals were in baby-doll pajamas!

Frankie AvalonThe last two in the AIP beach series with Annette and Frankie were Beach Blanket Bingo in the spring of 1965 and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini released that summer. The highlights of Bingo included, besides girls in bikinis, Linda Evans, before her Big Valley and Dynasty days, Harvey Lembeck, as funny as always, Timothy Carey, as scary as ever, and Don Rickles, insulting everyone and Paul Lynde, before Bewitched. Wild Bikini had, as the old actors, Brian Donlevy and Mickey Rooney. Music was by The Kingman. And Annette and Frankie.

These beach movies were silly, innocent fun. They were quickly made and poorly acted. However, they were great summer entertainment and gave some talented musicians their first national exposure. Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon became national icons, especially Annette who went on to raise a family and pitch peanut butter. In 1987 Frankie and Annette reunited in the delightful and nostalgic Back to The Beach. They returned as their old beach characters, now married and settled down with a grown daughter having some beach experiences of her own. This movie is a wonderful send-up of the old American-International flicks with even an appearance by Dick Dale and ‘some’ of The Deltones.Annette and Walt

It was during the making of Back to The Beach that Annette first noticed the symptoms of what she would discover to be multiple sclerosis. She has been struggling for years now with the ravages of this disease but in the face of pain and the reality of limited mobility, she has shown great courage and high spirits. In fact, she’s down right inspirational and has helped raise funds for research into degenerative diseases. She has brought us all years of grace and entertainment and we here at The Toast love her dearly and wish her the very best. If you love the sweet entertainment Annette has given us over the years then we urge you to visit her site and consider giving something back.

Update April 2013 Annette passed on to the big Mickey Mouse Club in the Sky. A performer who brought us years of pleasure and a beautiful, graceful and gracious person, we at the Toast will miss her.

New Stuff
The Toast is very proud to have a new essay by a new contributor. In The Heat of The Night, a gripping murder mystery from 1967. Our contributor is Orvis Wade- usually referred to as Big Daddy –and is something of a bon vivant man-about-town with eclectic tastes. He works in communications for the State of California and edits a monthly “underground” newsletter. We’re pleased to have him aboard.

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