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:

Rockin’ in the Film World #3: BEACH PARTY (AIP 1963)

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Finally! The weather here in New England has begun to break, and we’re heading into summer. I even managed to get some beach time in today. TCM beat me to the punch when they aired BEACH PARTY as part of their month-long salute to American International Pictures, a blast from the past filled with sand, surf, teenage sex, and plenty of good ol’ rock’n’roll! BEACH PARTY spawned a series of films and a whole slew of imitators , but AIP did ’em first and best.

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Teen idol Frankie Avalon and ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello starred in most of the AIP’s, using the same plot over and over. Frankie wants sex, but Annette wants to wait for marriage. They fight, and try to make each other jealous by dating someone new, but wind up together by film’s end. Simple, and rehashed using gimmicks like bodybuilding, drag racing, sky diving, and skiing to make things seem fresh. Even the old “haunted house” chestnut got used in the series’ last entry, GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (with Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley replacing Frankie & Annette).

Here, the beach antics involve Frankie & Annette on school vacation, where horny Frank plans to spend quality time alone with her. But not so fast: Annette’s invited the whole gang to join them at their rented beach house. Frankie is pissed, and gets with Hungarian hottie Ava (Eva Six, Miss Golden Globes of 1963), a waitress at the gang’s hang-out, Cappy’s (played by Morey Amsterdam). Cappy’s an overage beatnik who harbors Big Daddy, a mysterious beachfront guru from whom everyone’s waiting to hear “the word”.

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Bearded anthropologist Dr. R.O. Sutwell (Robert Cummings) is on the beach doing research, studying the mating habits of teens. He compares them to Aborigine tribal customs, with their slang talk and wild watusi-ing.  Sutwell’s accompanied by assistant Marianne (Dorothy Malone, Oscar winner for WRITTEN ON THE WIND), who pines for the uptight, clueless professor. Annette uses the older man (who the kids mockingly call “pig-bristles”) to get back at Frankie’s philandering with Ava.

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Enter Eric Von Zipper and his Rats. Arguably the most popular character in the entire series, he’s played by Harvey Lembeck, memorable in Billy Wilder’s STALAG 17 and as costar of Phil Silver’s SGT. BILKO show. Von Zipper’s clearly patterned after Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONE, but this bumbling biker’s dumb as a bag of rocks. With his catchphrase “You stupids!” and exaggerated Brooklyn accent, Lembeck steals the film with his comic zaniness. The best part is when he confronts Sutwell, who gives him the ancient “Himalayan finger”, causing its victims to revert to a state of suspended animation.

Also appearing in the cast and subsequent “beach party” flicks is pushing-30 John Ashley, who was in AIP’s 50’s epics HOT ROD GIRL and MOTORCYCLE GANG, and went on to star Eddie Romero’s Filipino “Blood” trilogy, and later produced TV hit THE A-TEAM. Candy Johnson was the girl in the fringe whose wild shimmying literally knocked the boys off their feet. Jody McCrea, son of Western star Joel, makes his debut appearance as Deadhead, the loveable goofball of the gang (later changed to Bonehead for some strange reason). Andy Romano and Alberta Nelson are the most recognizable Rats, while Meredith McRae, Valora Noland, and Gary Usher represent the surfers. And cult star Yvette Vickers (ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN, THE GIANT LEECHES) has an uncredited bit as one of Cappy’s yoga girls.

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Plenty of music is provided by surf guitar legend Dick Dale and his Del Tones, who perform “Swing’ and Surfin'” and “Secret Surfin’ Spot”. Frankie rocks out to the twist number “Don’t Stop Now”, while Annette sweetly sings “Treat Him Nicely”, and the duo duets on the theme song “Beach Party Tonight”. All these hijinks are ably handled by veteran director William Asher, who directed the bulk of TV’s I LOVE LUCY episodes, and produced and directed the series BEWITCHED for his wife Elizabeth Montgomery. Asher’s flair for comedy is highlighted by  wild brawl that turns into a pie fight at the conclusion.

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Oh, and Big Daddy is finally revealed to be none other than our old friend, Vincent Price, who gives us “the word”: “The Pit… bring me my pendulum, kiddies, I feel like swingin'”. Yep, it’s a plug for Vinnie’s upcoming Edgar Allan Poe flick THE HAUNTED PALACE. AIP may not have been known for highbrow product, but they sure knew how to cross-promote!

Take it away, Candy!!!: