We're at Paradise Cove, a private beach in Malibu where all those cheesy--and irresistible--1960s beach party movies were filmed. And Frankie Avalon, the original Beach Boy, and I are having a party of our own.
Frankie, almost 59, curly-haired, tanned and trim, relaxes in a beach chair, taking in the rays, decked out in bright white, rapping about the good old days.
He's still got it: the aura of an idol.
And it's all still here: the beach house used in the movies (seven of them, each filmed in 15 days or less); the no-nonsense pier in front of a restaurant under reconstruction; the cove where he and Annette Funicello romped--and introduced a generation of youth to flicks with story lines about anthropologists studying the "wild" behavior of teens. Of course, by film's end, the docs learned that the kids weren't so bad after all and then joined them in the Watusi.
It was a bygone era that, at least in Avalon's case, has given his career legs--and they're gorgeously tanned, too.
The movies, says Avalon, remain the ultimate wallow in '60s beach nostalgia.
"I'm happy to have been a part of that," he says.
Before I ask the first question, he brings up Funicello: "Oh, I wish Annette was here."
Question: How is she doing?
Answer: She's a fighter. She's strong-willed. She's got a tough battle with multiple sclerosis, but she's determined something is going to come along and get her well again. She's just the strongest, most loving, nicest person you'll ever want to meet. I think that came across with her performances from the Mickey Mouse Club to the beach party pictures. She's a gem.
Q: What are your favorite beach party movie memories?
A: Two things. One being nothing but laughter, fun, good times, that whole feeling of just having a ball. And the other is that of being absolutely freezing cold and shivering because we did those pictures in February, March and April. I don't care where you're from--February and March are cold!
Q: Sitting here with the waves crashing in front of us and our feet in the sand, the sun warming our bodies--tell me about a moment this takes you back to.
A: The memory that really comes to mind is being a kid in Philadelphia. My mother worked all of her life. My father worked all of his life. I came from a family that was a struggling family, financially. And for me, at 7, to go to the beach was really special because I needed a quarter for the locker room.
Q: Was it tough to come by a quarter back then?
A: Oh, yeah, it was real tough. A lot of times we had to forget the 25-cent locker room and change in the back of the car. But once I was on the beach it was paradise.
Q: Do you do you still come to the beach?
A: I come with my three grandkids, with my older kids [he has eight between 24 and 34], my wife and I walk along the water's edge.
Q: You've been married to the same woman, Kay, for 35 years. What's the success to your marriage?
A: Always keep romance in a marriage, and when it comes to raising children give them a good religious background, give them some kind of morals. And the most important thing is not to go against one another in trying to raise your children.
Q: What would be a very romantic thing to do for a woman at the beach?
A: The most romantic thing to do is to sit--just the two of you--under a nice umbrella, listening to some of your favorite music, to converse with one another, to walk along the beach, to play along the beach and to once in a while give each other a smooch.
Q: How is the beach different to you today?
A: It's pretty much the same. The beach is the one place where age makes no difference. The feeling the beach gives one--and I think everybody will agree--is that once you get here, it's invigorating. It just kind of gets you all happy and bright-eyed. Everybody comes to enjoy. It's an event.
Q: Why is that?
A: Because we're all water babies. It's just that basic. At the beach we experience the soothing qualities of listening to the ocean, feeling the breeze and the sand beneath your feet.
Q: Any personal safety tips when you're out there in the ocean? Did you ever have any close calls?
A: Oh, yeah. You get into an undertow, into some kind of a riptide, and it's very difficult to fight the water. I always say make sure somebody's always with you.
Q: How deep do you go out there?
A: Never over my head.
Q: What's your favorite beach movie?
A: The first one, "Beach Party," because it was the original. From there on out it was, 'Well, let's see, why don't we have Frankie jump out of an airplane?' or 'How about Frankie as a drag racer?' "
Q: Did you like your teen idol image?
A: Absolutely. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't want to trade it for anybody else's career. My music career started in 1957, and the movies came in the '60s. Those memories are this: frantic, hectic, bedlam, police all around me, getting me from one place to another, screaming kids wanting to rip off my clothes and tear me apart out of admiration. That's what it was like then.
Q: What's it like today?
A: The amazing thing is that I'll be having lunch or dinner or be at the airport, and I'll get a tap on the shoulder. I'll turn around, and I'll have to look down because there's an 11-year-old kid there saying, "Can I have your autograph? You're the teen angel in 'Grease,' aren't you?"
Q: So, with the popularity of "Grease" and your appearance in the number "Beauty School Dropout," you've got a whole new generation of fans?
A: I do. About two or three times a year, I go out with the stage play and re-create the role in the movie. At the end of the show, I do 15 minutes of my hits--"Venus," "Dede Dinah," "Ginger Bread," "Why," "Bobby Sox to Stockings." When I go outside through the stage door, there's all these mothers and their kids who want autographs.
Q: What else are you up to?
A: I'm in the midst of putting together a whole series of music that will be thematic: "Frankie Avalon Presents . . ." We'll do a compilation of music, like the Everly Brothers, Jackie Wilson and so on. I open at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas on [Thursday], and then I'll be on the Home Shopping Network [next Wednesday selling his Twilight Tan line of self-tanning products].
Q: This is a quirky question, but how many Hawaiian shirts do you own?
A: You know, I was thinking today, "What should I wear down to the beach?" I looked in my closet, and I've got one Hawaiian shirt.
Q: Any final thoughts for your fans, old and new?
A: Surf's up!