Beach Beauties Of The '60s: When Bikinis Were Wild And Stuffed

Culture | October 18, 2017

Left: Lobby card for 'Pajama Party.' Right: Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in a scene from the movie 'Beach Party.' Sources: eBay; Bettman/Getty

In the early 1960s, sex was hiding in plain sight -- not sex, depicted graphically, but the fun and games of young people on the beach in barely-there swimsuits. Annette Funicello was the alpha-babe, but Shelley Fabares, Susan Hart, Barbara Eden, Ursula Andress and Raquel Welch all had their moments in the sun. Beach movies and the national mania for bikinis made seductive stars of young shapely actresses and entertained the fantasies of teenage boys -- all the while carrying on as if this was good clean fun.

Of course, it was good clean fun by today's standards. But back then, it was racy. You saw a lot of skin on screen in the early '60s. And then later in the decade, as the cultural changes really kicked in and the bikinis got even smaller, you saw even more.

Cast your memory back to the girls of summer in the '60s -- Annette Funicello frolicking with Frankie Avalon; Gidget on her surfboard; various gorgeous gals succumbing to Elvis Presley's charms. Southern California was the place to be, with Beach Boys tunes about "Surfer Girl" and California Girls" blaring on the radio and tan teenagers hitting the waves or dancing on the sand. 

Annette Funicello, Queen Of The Beach Party Beauties

Left: Annette goes in for the kill on the 'Bikini Beach' poster. Right: Annette on the cover of the 'Muscle Beach Party' soundtrack album. Source: Amazon.com; discogs.com

Annette Funicello, a wholesome beauty with the perfect coif and cute bikinis, ruled the beach party scene. (She was a former Disney Mouseketeer, so perhaps she got the benefit of the doubt when it came to "wholesomeness.") She was iconic among beach bunnies of her time. Starring with Frankie Avalon, they started off in 1963 with Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Beach Blanket Bingo and How To Stuff a Wild Bikini

Beach Party Movies Were A Massive Fad

Poster art for 'Beach Blanket Bingo' (1965) and 'It's A Bikini World' (1967). Source: wrongsideoftheart.com

Annette starred without Frankie in Pajama Party, instead working her feminine wiles on Tommy Kirk as her co-star. A young and stunning Linda Evans was also in Beach Blanket Bingo with Annette and Frankie. Tommy Kirk would go on to make The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini (1966) and It's A Bikini World (1967), both with Deborah Walley. A few years before Annette hit the beach, there was a bubbly Sandra Dee as Gidget. She had her handsome Moondoggie (James Darren) and surfboards galore.

The Girl Who Wanted To Surf With The Boys

Later on, Sally Field had her first TV role as Gidget in the 1965 TV sitcom. The character of Gidget was in fact based on a real California teen, and her story served as the basis for her father's 1957 novel, Gidget, The Girl With Big Ideas. The real-life Gidget's name was actually Kathy Kohner, and her father felt her story, about a girl who just wanted to surf with the boys, would be compelling. He might not have known it at the time, but the small surfing subculture was about to explode. In all, seven actresses have portrayed Gidget over the years, although Sally Field and Sandra Dee are the most famous.

The Beach Beauties Were Elvis Fans -- Like Everyone Else

Elvis had his share of beach babes, with beauties like Shelley Fabares in Clambake or Joan Blackman in Blue Hawaii. Shelley was also in a beach movie called Ride the Wild Surf with heartthrobs Fabian, Tab Hunter, Peter Brown, Susan Hart and Barbara Eden. Barbara Eden would go on to star in the TV series I Dream of Jeannie where she was never allowed to show her belly button. But in this film it is shown often.

Even Jimmy Stewart had a beach film, the 1962 comedy “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” featured teen idol Fabian and the beautiful Maureen O’Hara as Jimmy’s wife. The fun begins when the family vacation at a run-down California beach house turns into a madhouse! Of course, Maureen looks anything but a typical housewife in her swimsuit.

Raquel Welch, '60s Bikini Girl 2.0

Left: Raquel Welch in 'A Swingin' Summer.' Right: Lobby card for 'Fathom,' 1967. Source: Reddit, eBay

In 1965, A Swingin' Summer was another beach film that featured musical performances by popular acts like the Righteous Brothers and Gary Lewis & the Playboys. But the highlight of the film was the beautiful Raquel Welch, who made her acting and singing debut in this film.

Raquel Welch was a little too late to get in on the mindless beach-party fun, but she was a bikini standout nonetheless. She seemed to end up in a bikini in every movie that followed, starting of course with the unforgettable fur bikini she wore in One Million Years BC (1966).

Bond On The Beach

Beach beauties like Deborah Walley and Nancy Sinatra were in The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini in 1966. Tommy Kirk and Boris Karloff also starred in this silly beach party film. We haven't even mentioned Bond movies, which tended to take place in exotic ports of call and always featured a beach beauty or two. The appeal can be summed up in two words: Ursula Andress. Her beach scene as Honey Ryder in Dr. No remains, according to many Bond fans, the greatest Bond-girl moment of all time. The bikini she wore was homemade, and her dialogue was dubbed, but somehow it was all just right.

The Beach Party Couldn't Last

The beach party movie genre almost immediately developed an interesting subgenre -- beach party horror. Of course, this wasn't an idea that came out of nowhere; teenagers flocked to horror movies and to beach movies, so combining them seemed like a can't miss idea. The directors might not have agreed, as the job of combining the fun of beach frolics with true horror was a tough ask. For instance, 1964's The Horror Of Party Beach promised "Weird Atomic Beasts Who Live Off Human Blood!" while also touting itself as "The first horror monster musical." Oddly enough, we may have The Horror Of Party Beach and films like it to thank for the camp masterpiece The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The Beach Girls And The Monster, from 1965, used a classic horror device: those who have sex shall die. Or, as the tagline reads: "Beach party lovers make hey! hey! in the moonlight while the monster lurks in the shadows!" This is an idea that would become a requirement of slasher films like Friday The 13th.

What happened to the beach party fad? It died off as an edgier genre took over the drive-ins: the outlaw biker movie. The 1966 release The Wild Angels, starring Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra and Bruce Dern, was a surprise hit, and its studio, American International Pictures, rushed to cash in on the formula. The late '60s saw the release of one motorcycle-gang movie after another: The Devil's Angels, The Glory Stompers, The Mini-skirt Mob, Angels From Hell, The Savage Seven, and many more. There was no going back to the beach with Frankie and Annette.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Annette Fucinello | Bikini Babes | Frankie Avalon | Ladies | Sally Field

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Cyn Felthousen-Post


Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!