Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Memoriam :: They Aren't Guilty Pleasures, Folks, if there is No Guilt Involved :: Beach Party 4VR!

For his work on I Love Lucy (directing 100 out of 180 total episodes) and Bewitched (produced and directed for his wife, Elizabeth Montgomery), along with countless other TV shows, William Asher deserves the credit for being the king and originator of the situational-comedy as we know it on the tube. However, having given credit where credit is due, I will always be thankful to Asher for his credulity crunching contributions to the big screen.

As the legend goes, when the brass at American International Pictures took a meeting with Asher on the possibility of producing and directing a feature for them, what Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff had to offer was a script by AIP regular, Lou Russoff, that was basically a rehash of their exploitative teen-angst product, like High School Hellcats and The Cool and the Crazy, of which the company had been churning out since the mid-1950's, and hoped to squeeze a few more dollars out of the waning formula. Turns out Asher wasn't really interested in another take on the horrors of drugs, failed parenting, and the generation gap, but took the opportunity to make a pitch of his own...

His was a novel idea for the time: a movie where the kids weren't in any trouble at all -- except for the eternal pursuit of a good time, usually with the opposite sex; and being a surfer himself, Asher wanted to base the film around the gung-ho surf-culture of southern California. Not completely sold on the idea, the executive producers took a gamble and rolled the dice -- just like they had done a few years earlier when they turned Roger Corman, Richard Matheson, Danny Haller and Vincent Price loose on the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe.

But you have to realize Nicholson and Arkoff took an even bigger monetary risk by backing Asher's proposed teenage-fueled, surfside romp-n-stomp. When Hammer Films introduced vibrant Technicolor to their gothic horror revival in 1957 with The Curse of Frankenstein, the writing was on the wall and AIP's old B&W double-bills just weren't gonna hack it anymore. This led, of course, to Corman's The House of Usher -- a gamble, to be sure, but with Hammer already paving the way, there was already a built in and proven audience for horror pictures to help hedge the bet. Not so for Asher's cinematic brainstorm about 10,000 kids with 5000 beach blankets and what they did on them when the sun went down, the moon came out, and the water got too cold to surf.

History proves American International won both of those bets, big time. And when his inaugural Beach Party started raking it in at the box-office, Asher was expecting a call from AIP to cash in with a sequel. And that call came soon enough, but Asher quickly scuttled the idea of letting the characters mature to the next step of adulthood, thinking the sequel should be nothing more than a literal continuation from the last one, resulting in one of the longest summers in motion picture history that lasted for over three years and seven sequels and spin-offs. And though some may scoff at the knee-deep cheese of Frankie and Annette, the all out buffoonery of Harvey Lembeck's Eric Von Zipper, or the thunderous chords of Dick Dale, I unabashedly wallow in it. And for that, Mr. Asher, I would like to say thank you from the bottom of B-Movie lovin' heart.

William Asher


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