So I’m sure you’ve seen the cinema classic Beach Blanket Bingo starring Frankie and Annette and their good friend Bonehead who falls in love with the mermaid Lorelei after she saves him from a surfboard accident. “I’ll be the only boy in my block that knows a real live mermaid!” Bonehead exclaims, when he discovers that Lorelei’s not quite a normal girl. Lorelei gets some temporary legs for her earthbound beau and they have a lovely romance… until Lorelei has to return to the water and her own kind, which is tragic but finally okay because it leaves Bonehead free to romance Linda Evans of later Dynasty fame and that is clearly the better choice financially. The best part of Beach Blanket Bingo, though, is at the very end (this is a spoiler but honestly it’s not really the kind of movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat), when Annette turns to Frankie and asks, “Was there really a mermaid?” Frankie looks at her and answers smoothly: “Is there a moon? Is there a sky? Are there dreams?” We cut to the ocean, and a mermaid’s tail flips out of it, and then the word “FIN-EE” appears on the screen.
Lorelei was played by the gorgeous and hilarious Marta Kristen, who would go on to star in Lost in Space and appear in a ton of other television series and commercials and films. Here’s a compilation of the very very awesome Lorelei scenes, which are by far the best ones in the film, though I might possibly be slightly biased:
As you can see, I had no choice but to email Marta. She was gracious enough to respond, and our Q and A follows.
So were you excited to play a mermaid on film?
I was excited to get a part in a beach movie! Beach Blanket Bingo was the fourth film in the Frankie and Annette series, which was hugely popular. First a Disney movie with Brian Keith and now a beach movie with Frankie and Annette – I was going places! Of course that was before I realized how much work was involved in playing a mermaid.
What was it like, putting on a tail?
Getting into the tail wasn’t the problem – a little wriggling, a little talcum and a lot of inhaling. The challenge was trying to move once you had it on! I had to have a stage hand holding me steady as I tried to hop around without tripping on the fins! And there was always a crewmember in a wetsuit nearby, just in case.
Was it a challenging role physically? You seem to spend a lot of time in the ocean!
It was more physical of role than I expected. I remember one scene early in the film where I pop my head out of the water, see a parachute in trouble, then dive back underwater. It sounds simple until you realize we were shooting next to a boulder in 55° water with a tidal surging trying to push me into the rock! The thing I remember most about making Beach Blanket Bingo is that I took so many chances that, being older and hopefully wiser, I would never consider taking today.
What do you think about Lorelei when you think of her now?
I like Lorelei today, but for different reasons than I did before. In 1965, it was a chance to do film work in a successful franchise. Now, I look at the part and realize that I played the ultimate teenage angst personified – the lonely outsider whose skills and abilities make her unique yet who just wants to know what it’s like to be part of the popular crowd (or in this case, the two-legged crowd).
What kind of response did you get, playing a mermaid?
I really don’t recall much of a response. Beach Blanket Bingo, being a teen movie, wasn’t really going to garner many newspaper reviews. And if it did, I may have missed them – I was already filming the pilot of Lost in Space in Red Rock Canyon when the film came out.
Can you tell me about the mermaid tail you wore?
The tail was basically latex and fiberglass. I much preferred the costume belt I wore for close-ups. It was just a wide belt that matched the scales on the tail and it allowed me to shoot scenes where my waist might be seen, but still allowed me to use my legs to swim.
Did you ever meet Diane Webber?
I never met Diane Webber. Dave tells me that the tail I wore was originally custom-made for Diane to wear in a previous American International release [Mermaids of Tiburon]. I know that trying on the tail was part of the audition process, so Bill Archer was looking for someone who could wear the existing prosthetic. I’m sure there was no time or budget to build a new one.
What was it like working with Buster Keaton, who had a small role in the film?
It still boggles my mind that I had the opportunity to work with Buster Keaton. I wanted to talk to him but he seemed very sad and kept to himself. I don’t know if he was lonesome or just didn’t know what to do with himself between scenes, but he sat by himself away from the rest of the cast and I was too intimidated to just walk over and invade his personal space.
What do you think of other famous film mermaids who came later, like Daryl Hannah?
I think Daryl had the advantages of time and budget over Lorelei – Touchstone had the budget to afford a custom fitted tail and the passage of time allowed better technology to make the tail fit better and look/move more realistically.
Do you have any other favorite memories from Beach Blanket Bingo?
Many of the extras in the film were local kids who were regulars at Malibu Beach, where I lived. I didn’t know most of them by name, but I surfed enough to recognize the faces, including some that are now surfing legends, such as Johnny Fain and Mickey Dora. So watching that movie is like visiting the old neighborhood for me.
Have you had any additional mermaid experiences since the film? Do you ever secretly long to put the mermaid tail back on? =)
No, I look back fondly at the experience, but I think one role as a denizen of the deep was quite sufficient! It always struck me funny that all major roles in my early career involved me getting soaked to the skin – Savage Sam, Wagon Train, Man From Uncle, even the Lost in Space pilot – all involved me and water. I think I noticed that trend during Beach Blanket Bingo while treading water, fending off hypothermia, keeping pasties on and trying to look alluring all at the same time.
Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Always keep a stagehand in a wetsuit floating nearby and remember, when the director says “Look out for the rocks” it probably means you’re already too close… but he got the shot he wanted, so it’s okay to swim for your life!