Pajama Party Scandal Of 1964
American-International was one company that clung to the old notions of showmanship long after the others had abandoned them, and that’s just one more reason we enjoy reading and writing about them. 1964 was a banner year for AIP, as they were knee-deep in a ten-year anniversary celebration, and once again touting their soon-to-be-major studio status. In the meantime, of course, they were still getting out their Poe series, along with the boffo Beach Party comedies, of which Pajama Party was a current release. Toward building those all-important bridges to exhibition, AIP toppers Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff attended all the important trade shows, and frequently brought along members of their talent roster for a little on-stage entertainment. Vincent Price was pressed into service as M.C. for many of these con-fabs, and beach faves Annette and Frankie were often obliged to give out with a tune from one of the pics. Out on the road, drive-in audiences were regaled with personal appearances by lesser AIP lights, including Jody McCrea, Candy Johnson, and others. Their comedy and musical interludes would generally be enjoyed from whatever stage area might be available in front of the screen. Often as not, however, the performers were relegated to the roof of the concession and/or projection building, where a spotlight might be provided from a parked vehicle. Many an AIP celebrity performed before the headlights of a pick-up truck. Still, the rubes were happy enough to have a little stardust sprinkled upon their benighted venues, as AIP was often willing to go into exhibition combat zones the majors had long since evacuated. Trouble was, those drive-in managers were notorious for skimming on percentages. Arkoff spends chapters in his outstanding memoir talking about how he chased those guys around for his share. One old-time vet told me that Sam himself would sometimes make a surprise drop-in at a rural ozoner, just to count the receipts. Old Sam put the checkmate on a lot of would-be help your-selvers this way. He and Jim were two guys that really worked hard for the money.
Sometimes AIP came a cropper with their daffy promo efforts, and Pajama Party provided nothing if not a stern lesson in decorum for the boys in publicity. The beach movies always promised more than they delivered. Kids were lured with posters and ads implying all sorts of bacchanalian frolics, near-nudity among beach bunnies being the least of these attractions. Parents were already on the prod. Girls just home from a drive-in encounter with the latest AIP product were ripe subjects for a pregnancy exam. Public opinion among moral watchdogs, especially in rural areas, was already at a slow boil when Pajama Party gave them just the ammunition they needed. As you’ll note from the Boxoffice headline, ministers in Gastonia, NC (hey, I saw MGM’s David Copperfield at a kiddie show there in 1969!) were "roused" by the pajama-clad flower of local youth, parading, nay flaunting, their nubile selves on a public street as they wantonly exchanged glimpses of their near-naked bodies for free ducats to the Center Theatre. Beleaguered exhibitor Henry Hughes must have wished he’d chosen a career with Winn-Dixie that week, for it looks as though all hell, if you’ll pardon the expression, had broke loose among the local clergy. This whole thing was a tempest in a teakettle however, since the errant youths did apparently wear street clothes under the pajamas, or sweaters and coats over them (must have been a bulky night at the movies). It was just the idea of such decadence that lit the fuse. Apparently, one minister went so far as to encourage parents not to let kids see the movie at all, perhaps on the theory that their entertainment dollar might be better invested in the forthcoming engagement of Masque Of The Red Death. Whatever.
Having recently watched Pajama Party, we found it harmless --- rather pleasant, in fact. Donna Loren’s kinda cute, and she performed some ingratiating toe-tappers. Buster’s there too, providing constructive outreach to Native Americans with his characterization of Chief Rotten Eagle. You can sample a few other AIP marketing strategies with these pressbook ideas, and while you’re about it, just imagine finding any 1964 exhibitor serving up a "country-style" buffet breakfast in his theater lobby --- free --- for Pajama Party patrons. You’d have had better success locating feathers on a frog. On the subject of money coming in, Pajama Party took a sharp turn south from the monster rentals garnered by the just previous Bikini Beach, which at $2.2 million domestic, was the biggest performer of the whole series. Being the fourth in the group, Pajama Party brought back $1.5 in domestic rentals, heralding a downward trend that would continue with each new beach outing, until Ghost In The Invisible Bikini, with its paltry $745,000, ended the series once and for all.
A POSTSCRIPT: The ad for the Carolina Theatre on top is one I discovered in a Winston-Salem, NC newspaper dated March 19, 1966. Interesting that patrons were still being encouraged to attend in pajamas two years after initial release of the feature!