Jody McCrea: RIP

jodymccrea8Jody McCrea has gone to that Eternal Beach Party in the sky. Sad news for fans — like sad me — of American International Pictures famed series that started with 1963’s BEACH PARTY. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello played star-crossed lovers among a lovable gang of Hollywoodized cultural tropes with older stars waxing befuddled like Bob Cummings, Buster Keaton and Mickey Rooney. Plus close-ups of tits and ass — except Annette’s (Mr. Disney did not approve of her being in these risque comedies) and she wore saffrons to the shore.

Jody McCrea (son of actor Joel McCrea) played “Deadhead,” the lanky, affable Southern beach bum who wore a hat adorned with the great initials, RF (Rat Fink), and was the source of much good natured put-downs for his slow mental gait. He did get to fall in love with a mermaid in the iconically titled BEACH BLANKET BINGO. The BEACH PARTY films were the purist drive-in fluff of the decade, critically savaged and audience favored. For awhile. Their heyday was from 1963 to 1965, and a few lame off-shoots and rip-offs washed out by psychedelic 1967. The studio backlot beach world created by BEWITCHED guru William Asher had nothing to do with political reality but reflected the social status of American teens, free of parents, flush with disposable time and income. Minus the sex and drugs.

bikinibeachlc7Like Bob Cummings social anthropologist in BEACH PARTY, I own and watch these ridiculous films as cultural archives, and they can be a lot of fun with Don Rickles’ acerbic taunts and Harvey Lembeck’s inspired biker, Erich Von Zipper (who would be made invisible by 1966’s AIP groundbreaker THE WILD ANGELS), not to mention, fantastic cameos by Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Timothy Carey and even Belinda Montgomery twitching her sexy nose (courtesy of lucky husband William Asher). My personal favorite of the series God Help Me is BIKINI BEACH featuring Keenan Wynn, a surfing monkey, Frankie Avalon playing the Beatles inspired “Potato Bug” and Timothy Carey and a werewolf in one great scene. These goofy movies have retained their drive-in sense of AIP wonder, the nostalgic patina of America’s lost pop innocence before everyone got experienced.

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2 Responses to “Jody McCrea: RIP”

  1. Karl Holzheimer Says:

    I too own this series. God, it feels good to finally say that in public! I have a special affection for THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI which is, if I have my information correct, the last in the official AIP Beach Party series. Nancy Sinatra singing “Geronimo” is one of the defining moments of my adolescence. Another musical standout is Piccola Pupa (what a great name!) singing “Stand Up and Fight (For What You Think is Right)”. It also stars Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Jesse White, Francis X. Bushman and Patsy Kelly. Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley stand in for the missing Frankie and Annette. But my favorite Jody McCrea moment is in BEACH BLANKET BINGO and his besotted admiration of melancholy Donna Loren as she sings “It Only Hurst When I Cry”. Very good stuff.

  2. christian Says:

    I’ll be revisiting GHOST since they finally released it to DVD. One of my faves too simply for the horror element. The series did have some great music, especially with “Little Stevie Wonder” tearing up the screen…

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