Would Annette recognize today’s Calif. beach scene?
When she traded in her Mousketeer ears for a surfboard and a modest one-piece bathing suit, Annette Funicello helped create a world as fanciful as Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
It was the land of perfect waves and sparkling sand, in a place where there was a beach party every night and summer never ended – at least not until the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movie did.
When Funicello, who died this week at age 70, climbed into a convertible with Frankie Avalon in the opening moments of 1963’s Beach Party and sang, “They’ll be surfin’ all day and they’ll be swingin’ all night. Vacation is here. Beach party tonight!” she helped introduce America to Southern California’s beach culture.
“In 1964, I moved here from Teaneck, New Jersey. A girl in my ninth grade class, I wish I could remember her name, said to me, ‘Wow! Now you’ll get to go surfing,’ ” recalled David Rensin, who lives in a home that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
The author of more than a dozen books not only learned to surf once he got here, he went on to write the definitive biography of Miki “Da Cat” Dora, arguably the greatest outlaw surfer who ever lived and a stunt double in most of those Frankie and Annette movies.
Today, Southern California kids still go to the beach and catch waves, but there’s not nearly the freedom or the access that Funicello’s films celebrated. There are far more surfers crowding the waves, that’s true, but it’s hard to find the on-the-sand goofiness and camaraderie portrayed in Beach Blanket Bingo or How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. And nobody is writing songs like “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfin USA” or “Secret Surfing Spot.”
But then it’s a different time, notes University of Southern California pop culture historian Leo Braudy.
“Certainly there are lots of surfers still around, but they’re not as fascinating as they used to be,” Braudy said. “Things move on. The culture gets fascinated by other things. ”
There are video games to be played, social networks to be surfed and millions of others things to do.
“It’s more defused now,” Braudy said.
Southern California, too, has changed.
It’s more multiethnic, with more cultures bringing a variety of more pastimes to engage in. It’s also far more crowded, making it far harder to get to the beach and to park anywhere near the sand once there.
And the bonfires the kids always danced around in those Beach Party movies? As more and more people have moved to Southern California’s beaches, efforts have been launched to ban the bonfires to control air pollution. The South Coast Air Quality Management District is expected to take up the issue next month.