Bikini Party (1964): Teen Comedy, Starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello

From the Vaults:

‘William Asher directed Bikini Party, a teen satirical comedy, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

The film belongs to the beach party genre, which was popular in the 1960s. This is the third in the series of 7 films produced by American International Pictures (AIP).

School is out and the teenagers head for the beach. All goes well until millionaire Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III (Keenan Wynn) becomes convinced that the beachgoers are so senselessly obsessed with sex that their mentality is below that of a primate.  He thinks that Honeywagon’s wunderkind pet chimp Clyde (Janos Prohaska), who can surf, drive, and watusi better than anyone.

The teenagers get demoralized and discredited, when Honeywagon plans to turn Bikini Beach into senior citizens retirement home.

Foppish British rocker and drag racer Peter Royce Bentley, known as “The Potato Bug” (played by Frankie Avalon in a dual role), has taken up residence on Bikini Beach.

Annoyed by Frankie’s reluctance to start their relationship towards marriage, Dee Dee (Annette Funicello) becomes receptive to Potato Bug’s advances. In a jealous rage, Frankie challenges The Potato Bug to a drag race, hoping to win Dee Dee back.

The script was originally written for The Beatles. According to Asher, the group had agreed to act but later dropped out as their rapidly growing fame (after their 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show) made their fees excessive.

Forced to rework the script, Frankie Avalon’s dual role as an English singer named “The Potato Bug” was created to replace the four Beatles.

According to Avalon, AIP did a survey because they wanted to know how much surfing they should put in these pictures. It really wasn’t the surfing that was the attraction in those films. It was the fun and puppy love between Frankie and Annette.”

Don Rickles plays Big Drag, proprietor of The Pit Stop, a teen hangout where several numbers are performed. He also manages a garage for dragsters and is the announcer at the Bikini Beach Drag Strip. When Frankie says he looks familiar, Big Drag admits he was once Jack Fanny, his character from the earlier film, Muscle Beach Party.

Pop singer Donna Loren appears for the second time; she was previously in Muscle Beach Party, and also appeared in Pajama Party and Beach Blanket Bingo. She sang a solo in each movie. Little Stevie Wonder, also from Muscle Beach Party. returned for a bit part as well.

Character actor Timothy Carey appears briefly as “South Dakota Slim,” and has a larger part as the same character in Beach Blanket Bingo. His character is replaced by “North Dakota Pete” (played by Len Lesser) in How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.

Val Warren, then 19, billed as Teenage Werewolf in the film’s closing credits, was the first prize winner in Forrest J Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine’s National Horror Makeup Contest (beating out Rick Baker, who would go on to win 3 Oscars for makeup artistry). Included in first prize was a trip to Hollywood and appearance in Bikini Beach.

The end titles of the previous film, Muscle Beach Party, revealed that Peter Lorre would reprise his character in Bikini Beach. Lorre’s death led to Boris Karloff replacing him.

The dragsters used in the drag racing scenes (shot at Pomona Raceway) were popular at the time. They include: Dean Jeffries’ “Manta Ray”, Larry Stellings’ “Britannica”, the Greer, Black and Prudhomme fuel dragster “Freida” – driven by Don Prudhomme, ‘TV’ Tommy Ivo’s fuel dragster and four-Buick-engined “Showboat” dragster – the one Clyde drives to a new speed record. Ivo was also a technical advisor for the film, as well as go-kart champ Von Deming – billed in the credits with the title, “West Coast Go-Kart Champion”.

The surfboards used in the film were by Phil of Downey, California – aka Phil Sauer, the maker of “Surfboards of the Stars” Sauer was also the stunt coordinator for another beach party film that used his surfboards, Columbia Pictures’ Ride the Wild Surf, which was released the following month. Sauer was even portrayed in that film as a character by Mark LaBuse.

The original score, like Muscle Beach Party before it, was composed by Les Baxter. Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner wrote several songs for the film: “Bikini Beach” – performed by the cast; “Love’s a Secret Weapon” – sung by Donna Loren; “Gimmie Your Love” – sung by Avalon; “This Time It’s Love” – sung by Funicello; Because You’re You” – sung by Avalon and Funicello.

Hemric and Styner also wrote 2 songs that featured The Pyramids doing back up: “How About That?”, – sung as a duet by Avalon; and “Happy Feelin’ (Dance and Shout)” – sung by Little Stevie Wonder.

The Pyramids performed two additional songs – both which were written by Gary Usher and Roger Christian for the film: “Record Run” and “Bikini Drag” – Instrumental

Candy Johnson’s band, The Exciters, perform: “Gotcha Where I Wantcha” – written by Jack Merrill and Red Gilson.

The Potato Bug name is a reference to The Beatles. The character is a permutation of John Lennon, albeit with a persona based on British stereotypes. and made popular by English comics like Terry-Thomas.

Keenan Wynn’s character’s surname, “Honeywagon,” refers to the so-named portable toilets used in the film and television industry and at campgrounds and marinas. Thus, Frankie’s reply upon hearing Honeywagon’s name: “I’d keep that quiet if I were you.”

Timothy Carey’s pool-playing character’s name “South Dakota Slim” is a play on the pool shark character “Minnesota Fats” that Jackie Gleason played in the film, The Hustler.

Boris Karloff’s cameo (seen only from behind) is a riff on Vincent Price’s commercials for “the Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art” being offered at Sears at the time. Price wore similar costume (red cape, black hat) in his commercials, and after appearing in Beach Party doing similar gag, the audience would assume they would be seeing Price again, thus creating punchline when fellow spookster Karloff is revealed.

Annette Funicello as Dee Dee
Frankie Avalon as Frankie / Potato Bug (Peter Royce Bentley)
Keenan Wynn as Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III
Martha Hyer as Vivian Clements
Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper
Don Rickles as Big Drag
John Ashley as Johnny
Jody McCrea as Deadhead
Candy Johnson as Candy
Danielle Aubry as Yvonne, the Lady Bug
Elizabeth Montgomery (wife of director William Asher) as the voice of Yvonne, the Lady Bug
Meredith MacRae as Animal
Delores Wells as Sniffles
Donna Loren as Donna
Janos Prohaska as Clyde
Timothy Carey as South Dakota Slim
Little Stevie Wonder as Himself
Alberta Nelson as Puss/Alberta
Boris Karloff as Art Dealer