Now is the time to praise Zeme North. Who?
But first... The
legend goes that Jack Warner was so impressed by the reception to
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 1960 spring-break frolic, "Where the Boys Are," that he decided
to duplicate it, moving the action from the East Coast to the West -
from Fort Lauderdale to Palm Springs.
And he would populate his version with
Warner house players whom he had kept imprisoned largely on television in Warner series.
Hence, "Palm Springs Weekend" of 1963, which is much more appealing than "Where the Boys Are" and has become something of a Turner Classic Movies staple. TCM recently aired it on Friday, April 19 and, again, I stopped what I was doing and kicked back to watch. It's irresistible.
Director Norman Taurog's cast was headed by Connie Stevens, Troy Donahue, Robert Conrad and Ty Hardin, contract players
to whom Warner infrequently tossed a feature-film crumb. Much like the stars of "Where the Boys Are," they were way too old to play college-age
students, but at least their film was a genuine frolic. Unlike "Boys," there was no disconcerting gang rape at its center. These "kids" merely partied in bikinis and Speedos (a time when men didn't wear Bermuda shorts for swimming), swigging a lot of beer.
"Palm Springs Weekend" is a lot more fun than "Where the Boys Are," a more companionable throwaway movie, and as a bonus, it found room for a witty cameo appearance by Shirley Eder - the show-biz gossip columnist for the Detroit Dree Press for 40 years - as herself, of course.
complimented his players with a few outsiders - Stefanie Powers (on
loan from Columbia), Jerry Van Dyke, child star Billy Mumy and, as the
adults, Andrew Duggan, Carole Cook and the always invaluable Jack Weston, he of the inimitable lisp.
one more - an adorable newcomer named Zeme North who handily walks away
with the film as its so-called wallflower. For all intents and
purposes, North is the real star of "Palm Springs Weekend." (Sorry,
Connie and Stefanie.) Warner and Taurog ("Room for
One More") showcased North here (even though she had co-star billing),
teaming her not just with Van Dyke, but with Mumy as well. I've no
idea who came up with the idea but both Zeme North and Billy Mumy have
the same hair color and haircut in "Palm Springs Weekend."
Kindred spirits, see.
For reasons that remain bizarrely evasive, "Palm Springs Weekend" was Zeme North's second and final film.
like to think that she left the biz voluntarily - that perhaps she went
home to Corpus Christi, Texas and opened an acting school for kids.
Based on her chemistry with Mumy, she was great with kids.
disclosure: I first encountered North when I was a kid myself and she
came to Philadelphia in the tryout engagements of two big Broadway
musicals. In "Take Me Along," Bob Merrill's 1959 musical version of
Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness!," North played the daughter of Walter
Pidgeon and Una Merkel, the younger sister of Robert Morse and ...
The niece of Jackie Gleason
. What a cast.
year later, she came back to Philadelphia (and to the same theater, the
Shubert) as Anthony Perkins' leading lady in Frank Loesser's eagerly
anticipated "Greenwillow." It was 1960 and Perkins had just finished
shooting Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." He had not yet become an icon.
show's director was George Roy Hill and its choreographer was the great
Joe Layton. North came to "Greenwillow" rather late in the game, having replaced
the original female lead, Ellen McGowen, during the musical's early rehearsals. Hill, Layton and Loesser all liked McGowen but thought
that, at 28, she might be the wrong age for the part. North, who reportedly
with 100 other actresses and was 18 - ten years younger - got the
role, a plum one.
However, during the Philly tryout, where the reviews were
less than enthusiastic, North herself was replaced ... by Ellen McGowen.
actresses demoralized by the process.
No one said show business was
While this could be seen as a setback, North bounced back and moved on to
another musical, "Fiorello!," by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, during
its Broadway run (the show was a personal triumph for its star, Tom
Bosley) and, a year later, made her first movie, "Zotz!," William Castle's 1962
comedy with Tom Poston.
Then came "Palm Springs Weekend."
Too bad that Jack Warner, a smart cookie, didn't snap her up and nurture her. I would have loved to have seen her progress on screen. Zeme North had the potential to be a terrific screwball comedienne and movie musical star. But by this time, the studio system was dying and promising talent was no longer being personally groomed for stardom by moguls.
Notes in Passing:
I hasten to note that "Greenwillow," a hugely underrated show and now a cult musical, featured one of Frank Loesser's grandest scores, including the huanting "Never Will I Marry" which, of course, was subsequently recorded by Barbra Streisand.
Turner Classic Movies will air "Palm Springs Weenend" again on Wednesday, July 10 at 1:45 p.m. (est), bookended by two other teen flicks from the same era, "For Those Who Think Young" and "A Summer Place."
My advice? Pop some corn, open some wine and sit back and veg out.
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~Jerry Van Dyke and Zeme North in "Palm Springs Weekend"
~photography: Warner Bros. 1963
~Poster art for "Palm Springs Weekend"
~Warner Bros. 1963©
~photography: The Detroit Free Press 1963
~Publicity portrait of Zeme North for "Zotz"
~ photography: Coumbia Pictures 1962©
~Anthony Perkins and North rehearsing "Greenwillow"
~Photo publicizing North as the show's new female lead
~photography: Friedman-Abeles 1960©
~Souvenir program cover for "Greenwillow"
~North and Connie Stevens in "Palm Springs Weenend"
~photography: Warner Bros. 1963©