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Friday, March 03, 2006

Pajama Party Scandal Of 1964

American-International was one company that clung to old notions of showmanship long after others had abandoned them, one more reason we enjoy reading and writing about them. 1964 was a banner year for AIP, them knee-deep in a ten-year anniversary celebration, again touting soon-to-be-major studio status. In the meantime there was still their Poe series, along with the boffo Beach Party comedies, of which Pajama Party was a current release. Toward building all-important bridges to exhibition, AIP toppers Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff attended trade shows, and frequently brought along members of their talent roster for on-stage entertaining. Vincent Price was M.C. for many of these con-fabs, Annette and Frankie obliged to give out with a tune from one of the films. 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 rigged in front of the screen. Often as not, performers were seen/heard from concession or projection building roofs, a spotlight supplied from parked vehicles. Many an AIP celebrity stood before the headlights of a pick-up truck. Still, attendees were happy to have a bit of stardust sprinkled upon otherwise benighted venues, AIP willing to go into exhibition combat zones the majors long since evacuated. Trouble was, drive-in managers were notorious for skimming on percentages. Arkoff spends chapters in his outstanding memoir talking about how he chased showmen around for AIP's share. One old-time vet told me Sam himself would sometimes make a surprise drop-in at a rural ozoner, just to count receipts. Arkoff put checkmate on a lot of would-be help your-selfers this way. He and Jim were two to really work for their money. Sometimes AIP came a cropper with daffy promo efforts, Pajama Party providing nothing if not a stern lesson in decorum for the boys in publicity. Beach movies always promised more than they delivered. Kids were lured with posters and ads implying every sort of bacchanalian frolic, near-nudity among beach bunnies the least of 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 (where I saw MGM’s David Copperfield at a kiddie show in 1969) were "roused" by pajama-clad flowers of local youth, parading, nay flaunting, nubile selves on public streets, wantonly exchanging glimpses of their near-naked bodies for free ducats to the Center Theatre. Beleaguered exhibitor Henry Hughes must have wished he had 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 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 (surely a bulky night at the movies). Mere idea of such decadence had lit the fuse. Apparently, one minister went so far as to encourage parents not to let kids see Pajama Party at all. Having recently watched Pajama Party, I found it harmless --- agreeable in fact. Buster Keaton is there, 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 imagine finding any 1964 exhibitor serving up a "country-style" buffet breakfast in his theater lobby --- free --- for Pajama Party patrons. On the subject of money coming in, Pajama Party took a sharp turn south from monster rentals garnered by the just previous Bikini Beach, which at $2.2 million domestic, was the biggest performer of the whole series. Being 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.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I got married, I told my wife, "I'm yours for better or worse 'til death do us part, unless Annette Funicello becomes available."

We showed PAJAMA PARTY as one of our Friday night movie gatherings a couple of years ago; a big hit (and yes, pajamas were mandatory). A Beach Party film is now a regular annual event. But WHAT did she ever see in FRANKIE?!?!?

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Sam Arkoff went around implying he'd rescued Buster Keaton from obscurity even though Keaton had been working steadily[and on high profile TV shows]since 1950.

10:51 PM  

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