Friday, March 14, 2014

From the Cafe's Bookshelf: "Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies"

Fans of the Beach Party movies and other 1960s surfing flicks will find no better spring break reading than Thomas Lisanti's Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969. Originally published in 2005 and reprinted as a paperback in 2012, Lisanti's book provides a comprehensive look at the genre from Gidget (1959) to The Sweet Ride (1969). While other books have covered these films in the context of 1960s pop culture, Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies goes behind the scenes with production details provided by veteran stars such as Shelley Fabares and Jody McCrea.

Sandra Dee and Cliff Robertson
in Gidget.
Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies is divided into three parts: an introduction; entries on each of the 32 films covered; and biographical sketches of selected performers. The introduction provides an historical overview, starting with Frederick Kohner's novel Gidget, which was based on his teenage daughter Kathy's obsession with surfing. Beginning the film version of Gidget, Lisanti traces the evolution of the beach movie genre and the influence of films such as Where the Boys AreBeach Party, and The Endless Summer.While the author states that his "book does not contain in-depth analyses about the films in terms of their cultural importance," his introduction nonetheless offers insight into what made them popular and why they faded by the end of the decade.

Still, the focus of Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies is on the individual movies. For each film, Lisanti lists the complete credits, describes the plot, provides quotes from reviews, and--best of all--takes the reader behind the scenes for fascinating trivia, such as:
  • The Beach Party series almost starred Fabian and Sandra Dee instead of Frankie and Annette.
  • American International Pictures originally intended Bikini Beach for the Beatles--until the band's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show made their salaries too costly.
  • Nancy Sinatra was first offered the role of Sugar Kane (played by Linda Evans) in Beach Blanket Bingo.
  • Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield wrote two title songs for Where the Boys Are. The version they and Connie Francis preferred was not the one selected by producer Joe Pasternak. The Pasternak-preferred song became a huge hit, of course, and Connie's signature song.
Lisanti quotes frequently from many of the performers who appeared in these movies, particularly Jody McCrea, Aron Kincaid, and Luree Nicholson (daughter of AIP co-founder James H. Nicholson). Although the genre's biggest stars--Frankie and Annette--did not participate in interviews for the book, they are liberally quoted from other sources. McCrea offers an interesting perspective on his co-stars: "I got along very well with Frankie and Annette because I left them alone. They always had many lines to memorize or songs to sing. I just concentrated on my part and didn't fraternize with either of them at all."

Jody McCrea and Mary Hughes.
The comprehensiveness of Lisanti's film coverage is commendable. He does a fine job highlighting lesser-known films of interest such as The Girls on the Beach, A Swingin' Summer, and cult fave Ride the Wild Surf. Indeed, the only obvious omission is the Troy Donahue-Stefanie Powers 1963 romp Palm Springs Weekend. While it doesn't take place at a beach, it certainly fits within the genre. Plus, Lisanti does includes other non-beach efforts like the aforementioned A Swinging' Summer (Lake Arrowhead) and Ski Party (and its imitators).

In the third section of Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies, Lisanti profiles "a select number of actors and actresses who made their marks in...the genre." It would have been helpful to include the criteria for selection, for there are some notable omissions, to include: Harvey Lembeck, Bobbie Shaw, Dwayne Hickman, Timothy Carey, and Donna Loren. These performers are mentioned throughout the book, so it's not as if the author ignores them. It's just that their contributions to beach movies seems as notable as profiled performers Kincaid, Ed Garner, and Peter Brown (who only appeared in one surf movie).

Still, such criticisms amount to mere quibbles. With an exhaustive bibliography, an index, and 96 photos, this 456-page reference volume is highly recommended for fans of the beach movie genre and for libraries with extensive film book collections. So, the next time you head to the beach, be sure to grab your surfboard, your sun tan lotion, some Beach Party DVDs, and a copy of Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies!

McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers provided a review copy of this book.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the kind words and glad you enjoyed it Rick! I went back and forth about including Palm Springs Weekend but felt it was more a just a Spring Break ripoff of Where the Boys Are than a "beach movie." But you are correct if I included it, I wouldn't have been faulted. As for the profiles, first I tried to concentrate on the Lead Actors, but slipped in Ed Garner and Peter Brown becaues I interviewed them and wanted to include more of their quotes. In hindsight I should have omitted this section entirely and done another interview book with the guys only. As for Donna Loren and Bobbi Shaw since they were moe supporting players and I already profiled them in my prior book Drive-in Dream Girls I didn't want to repeat myself.

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  2. This looks like a good read. Thanks for reviewing it!

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  3. This sounds like a fun book, Rick. It was especially interesting to read about the background stories, like Nancy Sinatra being offered the part of Sugar Cane. Great post!

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