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:

Back to the Beach: MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (AIP 1964)

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The “Beach Party ” gang’s back and so’s the familiar formula in MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, second in the American-International series. It’s Easter vacation and Frankie Avalon is still horny, Annette Funicello’s still waiting for marriage, and a beautiful foreign woman is again coming between them. This time it’s Lucianna Paluzzi as Countess Julie, a rich heiress who wants to make Frankie a singing star and her personal property.

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Eric Von Zipper and his Rats aren’t around this time, replaced by a bunch of bodybuilders led by trainer Jack Fanny (the inimitable Don Rickles). Julie first sets her sights on “Mr. Galaxy” Flex Martian, but dumps him when she spies Frankie. This leads to war between the surfers and the musclemen, with the inevitable slapstick melee. Flex is played by Rock Stevens, a real-life bodybuilder who muscled his way through a few Italian peplum films before reverting to his real name of Peter Lupus and co-starring in the long-running TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

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The gang’s all here: John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Candy Johnson, Valora Noland, and Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. Alberta Nelson, usually one of Von Zipper’s Mice, is cast as one of the muscle girls. Newcomer Donna Loren makes her series debut singing “Muscle Bustle” with Dale and company. Miss Loren was spokesperson for Dr. Pepper soda, and the soft drink is prominently featured in some scenes… coincidence? I think not!

Rickles made his first of four series appearances as Fanny, although always in different roles. He’s Big Drag in BIKINI BEACH, Big Bang in PAJAMA PARTY, and Big Drop in BEACH BLANKET BINGO. Morey Amsterdam returns as Cappy, owner of the gang’s hangout. Comic Buddy Hackett is Julie’s business manager S.Z., and Peter Turgeon, primarily a stage actor who once played Dr. Woodward on DARK SHADOWS, is her hapless lawyer Theodore. 13-year-old Stevie Wonder makes his film debut jamming with Dick Dale and the Del-Tones on “Happy Street”:

There’s some fun with Frankie Avalon constantly breaking the Forth Wall, California surf artist Michael Dormer’s opening cartoon credits, and plenty of cool surfing footage. Beach Boy Brian Wilson co-wrote six of the tunes to add some authenticity. The most fun for film buffs is undoubtably the surprise cameo by Peter Lorre as Mr. Strangdour,  the silent partner of Jack Fanny’s  bodybuilders (“he bends things”), at the movie’s conclusion. A tag line at the end touts Lorre’s next appearance in BIKINI BEACH, but alas it wasn’t to be. After making Jerry Lewis’ THE PATSY, Lorre died on March 23, 1964, ending a great screen career.

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MUSCLE BEACH PARTY isn’t as good as BEACH PARTY, but sequels rarely top the originals. The formula was already in place for the series, and would continue right up to GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, the final film. While certainly not high cinematic art, the “Beach Party” series are goofball drive-in flicks designed for viewers to shut off their brains for an hour and a half and enjoy a few summertime laughs. And honestly, what more can you ask for out of a drive-in flick than that?