LOS ANGELES — 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, N.J.. 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 her movies.
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. People say, ‘All right, we already did the beach. Yes, we know California has a beach. Now let’s look at something else.”’
There are video games to be played, social networks to be surfed and a million of others things to do.
“It’s more defused now,” Braudy said. “What do kids think about? What do kids on the East Coast or the West Coast do? Where do they believe their dream place is? I don’t think there’s one anymore. There might be several. But back then it was California.”
Southern California, too, has changed.
It’s more multi-ethnic, 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.
Meanwhile, those rickety beachfront shacks that once dotted the coastline are all but gone, replaced by multimillion-dollar homes.
But when it comes to going to the beach and driving your woody, that old, wood-paneled station wagon, right onto the sand like Annette’s friends did in all those movies, well, forget about it. It mainly only happened in those movies and on Beach Boys album covers.
This 1965 file photo of youthful actors in a Hollywood movie amuse themselves between shooting of scenes at California’s Malibu Beach by staging an airborne twist exhibition on top of a surf board. Annette Funicello helped create a world as fanciful as Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom when she traded in her Mousketeer ears for a modest one-piece bathing suit.×
This Dec. 1962 file photo shows a crowd on shore watching four surfing enthusiasts at Redondo Beach, Los Angeles. It was a land of perfect waves and sparkling sand, in a place where there was a beach party every night and summer never ended.×
A portion of the Pacific Coast Highway runs through the affluent community of Malibu, Calif.×