Familiar Faces #11: When Candy Johnson Got Us All Shook Up!

Candy Johnson, dubbed “The Perpetual Motion Machine” by American-International publicists, shaked, rattled, and rolled her way across the Silver Screen in the first four AIP/Beach Party flicks, then just as quickly disappeared from the scene. But just who was this undulating beach bunny with the amazing ability to send Eric Von Zipper flying through the air with her hip-quaking booty shaking?

‘Candy’ was the childhood nickname of Vicki Jane Husted, born in San Gabriel, California on Feb. 8, 1944. She was the niece of race car driver Jim Rathmann, who won the Indy 500 in 1960. Candy loved dancing (obviously!) and her energetic go-go shimmying landed her a two-year gig as the featured attraction at Palm Springs’ Safari Lounge, backed by The Exciters Band, where she drew sold-out crowds on a nightly basis. The California Girl and her band next hit glittering Las Vegas, where the local press first coined that “Perpetual Motion Machine” nickname. It was there she caught the eyes of American-International Pictures honchos, who were looking for youthquakers to cast in their new film series about frolicking hormonal teenagers at the beach.

BEACH PARTY  was released in the summer of 1963 P.B. (that’s Pre-Beatles) and the low-budget formula of sand, sun, and surf became a smash on the Drive-In circuit. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello were the nominal stars (along with “oldsters” Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone), but Candy received a special ‘Introducing’ credit as the vigorously frugging girl with the hips that caused horny surfers to hurl across the beach! Next up was MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (1964) , featuring the great Peter Lorre in his penultimate role as Mr. Strangedour.

BIKINI BEACH (1964)  followed quickly, and this time Candy and The Exciters got to do their own number, a Swingin’ Sixties sax-honking classic titled “Gotcha Where I Wantcha”, which Candy joyously reprises during the end credits accompanied by veteran character actress Renie Riano:

It was during this time The Candy Johnson Show appeared at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, drawing massive crowds to the Bourbon Street Pavilion with their act at the ‘Gay New Orleans Nightclub’. The Pavilion was the Fair’s biggest hit, and attracted the attention of future Studio 54 owner Mark Fleischman, who opened the New York discotheque The Candy Store, headlined by Our Girl Candy and her Exciters. Members of rock band The Strangeloves allegedly saw Candy perform and came up with the perennial rock classic “I Want Candy”, which rose to #11 in 1965:

Candy’s last beach flick was PAJAMA PARTY before being replaced by AIP exec James Nicholson’s new squeeze, starlet Susan Hart. Candy retired from show-biz in 1968 and settled into a quiet life away from the spotlight. She was urged by friends to attend a special 2006 screening of BEACH PARTY in Los Angeles, and when she was introduced to the audience at the film’s conclusion, they surprised her with a thunderous standing ovation! Candy Johnson passed away of brain cancer just six years later at age 68, and her cremated remains were shot into space aboard the Celestis Centennial Memorial Spaceflight… Candy Johnson is now One with the Universe!

Now enjoy Candy along with 13-year old Stevie Wonder as we roll the end credits from MUSCLE BEACH PARTY! Thanks for the summertime memories, Candy:

Ho Daddy! Surf’s Up!: FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG (United Artists 1964)

Kowabunga! The success of 1963’s BEACH PARTY begat a deluge of Teen Beach Flicks, loaded with sand, sun, and surf, not to mention babes in bikinis, sturdy, studly boys, and rock’n’roll music. And while the Frankie & Annette/AIP sequels have a charm of their own, most of the imitators ranged from fairly okay (IT’S A BIKINI WORLD ) to pretty mediocre (CATALINA CAPER) to downright bad (WILD ON THE BEACH) . FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG falls into the first category, thanks to a lively cast headed by heartthrobs James Darren and Pamela Tiffin, and a slew of Familiar Faces from movies and TV.

Just don’t expect Shakespeare or anything like that, because FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG is as harmless a piece of movie fluff as you’ll ever come across! The plot is so simple even could’ve come up with it: all the sorority girls are going ga-ga over rich, handsome young stud ‘Ding’ Prescott, but he only has eyes for pretty Sandy Palmer, who has no use for the charming rascal. Despite all his silly romantic machinations, ‘Ding’ can”t get to first base with this ice-cold coed.

Meanwhile, Sandy’s “uncles” Woody and Sid turn local hangout Surf’s Up into the swingingest place in town, thanks to Woody’s comedy talents and sexy dancer Topaz McQueen (and with a name like Topaz McQueen, she’d better be sexy!). The college, led by board member and ‘Ding’s’ grandpa Buford Cronin,  gets in an uproar over rumors of underage drinking and “hanky panky” going on, and send prim (but equally sexy!) professor Pamela Swanson to investigate. Everything finally comes to a head (as they usually do in these films) when they try to shut down Surf’s Up, and Grandpa is discovered to be an ex-bootlegger named ‘Nifty’ Cronin (nicknames must run in the family), the surfing college kids (who don’t go to a lot of classes, by the way) blackmail him, and ‘Ding’ and Sandy finally get it on… er, I mean get together!

Star James Darren has always been a personal favorite of mine. He made his film debut in the low budget RUMBLE ON THE DOCKS (alongside Robert Blake and Timothy Carey ), was the original Moondoggie in 1959’s GIDGET, had the lead in the underrated LET NO MAN WRITE MY EPITAPH, costarred in the hit THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, and acted for Jess Franco in VENUS IN FURS. His TV resume includes Irwin Allen’s brief but memorable THE TIME TUNNEL , three seasons as William Shatner’s sidekick on TJ HOOKER , and hologram Vic Fontaine on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE (and don’t forget his turn as the animated ‘Jimmy Darrock’ on an episode of THE FLINTSTONES!). Darren also had a couple of minor rock hits, including the theme from “Gidget”, “Goodbye Cruel World”, and “Her Royal Majesty”. As of this writing, James Darren is alive and well at age 83, and still performs on occasion, to the delight of his many fans!

Pamela Tiffin was groomed to be a big star, in big films like SUMMER AND SMOKE, Billy Wilder’s ONE TWO THREE, STATE FAIR, and COME FLY WITH ME, but the beautiful young actress marched to her own drumbeat, and left Hollywood behind to marry Italian Edmondo Danon and move to the Continent, where she continued to act in Italian films until her retirement (Ms. Tiffin is also still with us at age 79). TV host Woody Woodbury (WHO DO YOU TRUST?) plays her “Uncle Woody”, and his smarmy, 60’s-style sex’n’booze jokes are kinda archaic and corny… yet I still found myself laughing at them! Another 60’s favorite, the sarcastic Paul Lynde , plays “Uncle Sid”.

Sexy Topaz McQueen is none other than sexy Tina Louise, who played sexy movie star Ginger Grant on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. And Gilligan himself, Bob Denver, is on hand as ‘Ding’s’ beatnik buddy Kelp! Character actor Robert Middleton (THE DESPERATE HOURS, LOVE ME TENDER) plays ‘Ding’s’ ex-bootlegger Grandpa. A young Ellen McRae is the prudish professor; she later changed her name to Ellen Burstyn and won an Oscar for ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE. And the daughters of Hollywood royalty make their film debuts as coeds Karen and Sue… Nancy Sinatra and Claudia Martin, Frank and Dino’s kids!

I mentioned “a slew of Familiar Faces” earlier, and this is the main reason film buffs will want to catch this lightweight little time waster: stars from the worlds of film and television like (take a deep breath!) Robert Armstrong (in his last film appearance), Benny Baker, Lada Edmond Jr (HULLABALOO’s top go-go dancer, later a successful stuntwoman), the ubiquitous Bess Flowers , vaudeville vet Mousie Garner, Susan Hart (THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI), perennial screen gangsters Allen Jenkins and Jack LaRue Anna Lee (as Darren’s mom), Michael Nader (DYNASTY’s Dex Dexter), Louis Quinn (Roscoe on 77 SUNSET STRIP), the one-and-only George Raft (as a cop!), character actorAddison Richards, Roger Smith (another 77 SUNSET STRIP alum and hubby of Ann-Margret), and Sammee Tong all appear in small roles.

Far as beach movies go, FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG doesn’t have a lot of music in it; there’s a folk rock-type tune in there somewhere, the title track sung by Darren, and a weird little novelty number by Bob Denver called “Ho Daddy, Surf’s Up”…

    …what it does have a plethora of (besides all those Familiar Faces) is a ton of product placement! You see, FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG was the early 60’s advertising slogan for Pepsi-Cola, to try and differentiate the brand from rival Coca-Cola by declaring it the soft drink of choice for the tanned and trim teen set. And Pepsi is literally everywhere in this film! Pepsi cans, Pepsi bottles, Pepsi vending machines… hell, I’m getting bloated just thinking about it! Be that as it may, this is a fun if inconsequential little beach entry that I’d recommend for the presence of James Darren, Pamela Tiffin, and all those Familiar Faces we movie and TV fans love to watch. So go on, crack open another Pepsi *burrrp* and give it a whirl. Surf’s up, dudes and dudettes!

Drive-In Saturday Night 2: BIKINI BEACH (AIP 1964) & PAJAMA PARTY (AIP 1964)

Welcome back to Drive-In Saturday Night! Summer’s here, and the time is right for a double dose of American-International teen flicks, so pull in, pull up a speaker to hang on your car window, and enjoy our first feature, 1964’s BIKINI BEACH, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello:

BIKINI BEACH is the third of AIP’s ‘Beach Party’ movies, and this one’s a typical hodgepodge of music, comedy, and the usual teenage shenanigans. The gang’s all here, heading to the beach on spring break for surfing and swinging. This time around, there’s a newcomer on the sand, British rock star The Potato Bug, with Frankie playing a dual role. Potato Bug is an obvious spoof of the big Beatlemania fever sweeping the country, with all the beach chicks (or “birds”, as he calls ’em) screaming whenever PB starts singing one of his songs, complete with Lennon/McCartney-esque “Wooos” and “Yeah, yeah, yeahs”. Avalon has a good time in a wig and Granny glasses (and a Terry-Thomas like accent) poking fun at the latest teen fad, and in typical low-budget AIP fashion, scenes with Frankie and Mr. Bug together have Beach regular Ronnie Dayton doubling for Potato Bug.

The villain of the piece is Keenan Wynn as Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III, who wants to get rid of the surfers so he can expand his old folks home. To prove his theory that the teens are nothing but Neanderthals “with an abnormal preoccupation with sex”, he has his simian sidekick Clyde (Janos Prohaska, The Bear from Andy Williams’s 60’s variety show) ape them by surfing, driving hot rods, and dancing. Martha Hyer is schoolteacher Vivien Clements, who stands up against Harvey for the kids, and guess who sides with him? That’s right, Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck ) and his Rats, who hates the surfers even more than Harvey!

Frankie and Annette argue (because of course they do), and she takes up with Potato Bug to make him jealous. Since Bug is a drag racing buff, Frankie decides to take up the sport and challenge him to a grudge race. Don Rickles Don Rickles returns as Big Drag (the former Jack Fanny), proprietor of Big Drag’s Pit Stop, the surfer’s hangout, and he’s funny as ever. There’s plenty of tunes and musical guests, including Little Stevie Wonder (singing “Dance and Shout”), The Pyramids, and The Exciters Band (who worked with the shimmying sensation Candy Johnson). There’s also plenty of padding, with lots of stock footage of surfing and racing, and though it’s an incredibly silly romp, it still manages to entertain if you like these sort of things (and I do!). Oh, and that mysterious art collector who keeps popping in and out of the film is none other than everyone’s favorite monster…

Boris Karloff  in a cameo! Now let’s go to the concession stand and load up on burgers and hot dogs during Intermission:

Our second feature is PAJAMA PARTY, also released in 1964:

Considered by aficionados as the fourth in the series, besides the fact it shares Annette, Jody McCrea, Eric Von Zipper and his Rats, and other regulars (Luree Holmes, Candy Johnson, Donna Loren, Michael Nader, Ronnie Rondell, Salli Sachse), it bears no relationship to the usual ‘Beach Party’ movies. In fact, PAJAMA PARTY is even goofier than normal – if you can imagine – a surreal, almost plotless piece of escapism with self-knowing winks to the audience! It may not be ‘Beach Party’ canon, but the film knows it’s goofy and revels in it.

Martians (yes, Martians!) send their biggest goof-up, an outer space teen named Go-Go (Tommy Kirk ) to infiltrate Earth and pave the way for their upcoming invasion. Don Rickles plays a Martian on the spaceship, and it’s not a spoiler to reveal Frankie Avalon is the alien chief – you’ll recognize his voice instantly. Go-Go lands in the backyard of dotty Aunt Wendy (Elsa Lanchester ), who renames him George and introduces him to her teenage borders, including Connie (Annette) and her dumb jock boyfriend Big Lunk (Jody). Von Zipper and his Rats are around, out to get “them volleyball kids”, and a crook called J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White) is plotting to steal Aunt Wendy’s millions, left to her by her late husband – in cash! All this takes place amid one slapstick situation after another, until whatever plot ends are neatly tied up.

Among J. Sinister’s henchmen is Buster Keaton , making his first appearance in the series. The Great Stoneface has some funny gags and bits, and could still take a pratfall with the best of ’em! Also making her ‘Beach’ debut is Bobbi Shaw, the “ya, ya” girl, and actor and nightclub comic Ben Lessy rounds out the villainous quartet. Dorothy Lamour guest stars as hostess of a fashion show, and even gets a musical number, “Where Did I Go Wrong”. Sexy Susan Hart gyrates her way through the film without any dialog, which isn’t a bad thing; the wife of AIP co-founder James Nicholson was better at window dressing than acting.

The songs are no great shakes except for Loren’s rocking “Among the Young” and Annette’s uptempo “Pajama Party”, but there’s some real energetic 60’s dancing going on (see if you can spot Teri Garr and Toni Basil movin’ and groovin’ in the crowd). The Nooney Rickets 4 provide a few instrumentals for the kids to boogie to, and the soft drink Dr. Pepper pops up everywhere (Loren was the Dr. Pepper Girl for years in 1960’s TV ads). Both BIKINI BEACH and PAJAMA PARTY are products of a bygone era, and both are still a lot of fun. A perfect double feature to watch on a hot summer night, with some popcorn and a cold Dr. Pepper!

KOWABUNGA!

New Recipe: HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI (AIP 1965)

HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI, the sixth entry in American-International’s “Beach Party” series, attempts to breathe new life into the tried-and-true  formula of sun, sand, surf, songs, and corny jokes. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are still around as Frankie and Dee Dee, but in this go-round they’re separated; he’s in the Navy stationed on the tropical island of Goona-Goona, while Annette has to contend with the romantic enticements of Dwayne Hickman .

Frankie’s part amounts to a cameo, enlisting local witch doctor Buster Keaton (!!) to keep those girl-hungry beach bums away from Dee Dee (while he frolics unfettered with lovely Irene Tsu !). Keaton’s magic ain’t what it used to be, so he has his daughter conjure up a knockout named Cassandra, who first appears on the beach as an animated bikini. All the boys go ga-ga for Cassandra, including a go-go ad man named Peachy Keane, who wants to promote her and Hickman as the ‘Boy and Girl Next Door’ in a series of ads for a motorcycle. And where there’s “sicles”, there’s Erich Von Zipper, who “adores” the stunning Cassandra and wants to enter the cross-country motorcycle race with her against Hickman and Dee Dee to win the coveted ‘Boy and Girl Next Door’ titles… even going as far as changing his image from black leather clad hood to button-down Madison Avenue man!

The movie’s a mash-up of beach party silliness and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, playing more like a traditional musical instead of a rock’n’roll dance party. In fact, the only rock ‘guest act’ in this one are The Kingsmen (of “Louie, Louie” fame), who get one song during a nightclub scene. Substantial time is given to the Madison Avenue Madmen, led by Mickey Rooney as Peachy, who mugs his way through the part in his own inimitable style, and even gets to sing a couple of numbers. Rooney’s boss is veteran Brian Donlevy as B.D. “Big Deal” McPherson, getting a chance to play a comic role for a change, and he’s fun to watch. Harvey Lembeck does his own mugging once again as Von Zipper, while comedian Len Lesser replaces Timothy Carey as ‘North Dakota Slim’s’ even meaner brother, ‘South Dakota Pete’.

Annette’s more covered up than usual, due to the fact she was pregnant during the film’s shoot. The producers got pretty creative hiding her bulge, even using a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken at one point – how’s that for product placement! Beverly Adams , the future Mrs. Vidal Sassoon, makes a sexy (if extremely klutzy) Cassandra. Regulars Bobbi Shaw (as Keaton’s assistant Khola Koku), Alberta Nelson, Andy Romano, Michael Nader, and Marianne Gaba are on hand, and reportedly Beach Boy Brian Wilson is in the movie as… well, a beach boy! And there’s a cameo appearance at the end by everyone’s favorite TV witch as Keaton’s daughter:

Yep, Elizabeth Montgomery, star of BEWITCHED and then-wife of director William Asher! The slapstick cross-country race shows signs of Keaton’s handiwork; alas, this was his last in the franchise. The formula had worn pretty thin by this point, and the next ‘Beach’ movie, GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, didn’t even feature Frankie and Annette, and is a disappointing end to the series. HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI is a game try to resuscitate the franchise, but failed to keep the ‘Beach Party’ money machine running.  Frankie and Annette went on to star in a racing drama, 1966’s FIREBALL 500, but fans would have to wait thirty years to see them get back to the beach… in 1987’s aptly titled BACK TO THE BEACH!

Fun in the Sun: BEACH BLANKET BINGO (AIP 1965)

You’d think by the fourth entry in American-International’s ‘Beach Party’ series, 1965’s BEACH BLANKET BINGO, the formula would be wearing a bit thin. Frankie and Annette are still trying to make each other jealous, Eric Von Zipper and his Rats are still comic menaces, and the gang’s into yet another new kick (skydiving this time around). But thanks to a top-notch supporting cast of characters, a sweet subplot involving a mermaid, and the genius of comedy legend Buster Keaton , BEACH BLANKET BINGO is loads of fun!

Aspiring singer Sugar Kane skydives from a plan into the middle of the ocean and is “rescued” by surfer Frankie. But not really… it’s all been a publicity stunt by her PR agent ‘Bullets’. Sugar is played by lovely Linda Evans, right before she landed on TV’s THE BIG VALLEY, and ‘Bullets’ is none other than the fantastically sarcastic Paul Lynde. But wait… Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his motley crew have spied Sugar, and the Head Rat immediately declares she’s “nifty”, and Sugar replaces his idol, “Marlo Brandon”.

Frankie wants to try skydiving, and so does Dee Dee (our girl Annette, for those unfamiliar with the series), but macho Frank thinks a woman’s place is in the kitchen. The gang heads to Big Drop’s Skydiving school, run by ‘Mr. Warmth’, the late, great Don Rickles . Instructors Steve and Bonnie (real-life husband and wife John Ashley and the delectable Deborah Walley ) cause romantic complications for Frankie and Dee Dee, because that’s just the way things go in these films. Meanwhile, big goofy Bonehead ( Jody McCrea ) opts out of the skydiving scene, and winds up meeting and falling in love with Lorelei the mermaid, played by marvy Marta Kristen (LOST IN SPACE’s Judy Robinson).

Things get real (or about as real as they can in a drive-in flick) when Von Zipper kidnaps Sugar, only to be snatched from him by his no-goodnik pool hall pal South Dakota Slim (the one and only Timothy Carey !). Slim takes her to his “bubby” house (he calls everyone “bubby”) and ties her to a buzzsaw, resulting in a silent-film style slapstick ending straight outta THE PERILS OF PAULINE. That ending, along with other comic bits, was devised by Keaton, who’s Big Drop’s “assistant”, and it’s obviously the comedy master’s handiwork. Buster has some wonderful sight gags spread throughout the film, like having troubles casting his fishing line in the surf, chasing (and chased by) Bobbi Shaw along the seascape, doing his own crazy version of the watusi, and hanging from a tree limb during the sped-up race to Slim’s sawmill. Buster Keaton still did his own stunts here at age 69, and his dedication to his comic craft, even in a low-budget teen movie like this, is a testament to his considerable talents.

Lynde and Rickles each get to showcase their own comic personas, with Rickles doing some of his stand-up insult comedy while emceeing Sugar’s singing performance, and it’s one of the movie’s comic highlights (Don to Frankie: “You’re 43, Frank! You’re old!”). Donna Loren returns to sing “It Only Hurts When I Cry”, surf rockers The Hondells appear, and even Lembeck and his Rats get a musical number, “Follow Your Leader”. Famed (at the time) columnist Earl Wilson plays himself, 1964’s Playmate of the Year Donna Michelle is one of the surfer girls, and Michael Nader (later Evans’ costar on DYNASTY) is Frankie’s pal Butch. BEACH BLANKET BINGO is perfect for a hot summer night when you’re looking for some mindless laughs, with a bevy of beauties, harmless musical interludes, and some fine comedy from Lynde, Rickles, and especially Buster Keaton. Kowabunga!