Rarely has a single cinematic work shaped the identity of a city like Where the Boys Are did Fort Lauderdale. The spring before the movie was released, 15,000 college kids descended upon the beaches and beer joints of what was then a mostly quiet vacation town. Then in December of 1960, the world was introduced to the goodhearted bedlam of spring break. The movie, based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout, was an hour-and-a-half-long summons to college kids to vacation here without fear of law or judgment.
This week, on the 50th anniversary of the filming, we had the chance to speak with Connie Francis, star of the movie and the voice behind the title song. These days, she lives in West Palm Beach and is working on a memoir. Looking back, she says, she had no idea what kind of effect the film would have on this region.
"It wasn't even a movie, it was a national phenomenon," says Francis, now 71 years old. "They didn't know whether to kill me or give me the key to the city."
The next year, more than 50,000 young people crashed Fort Lauderdale -- and the modern spring break was born. I-95 was a parking lot. Thousands of kids slept on the beach (many in the nude). City officials called in the National Guard. More than 7,000 young people were arrested. By the mid-'80s, more than 350,000 college kids (along with plenty of MTV camera crews) were making the annual trek to "Fort Liquordale."
"I wish I had the foresight to buy some land here," she jokes. "At first, I didn't want to do the movie. I really didn't want to do movies."
She says her father was opposed to her being in the movie too. He said it was a "dirty movie." "He said, 'What about those two kids at the end of movie, in that motel room? What do you think they were doing, sharing an egg cream?'"
Eventually she took a trip down here with her manager at the time, who also produced the movie. "I looked around, and I said, 'You mean to tell me I have to spend the next three months in this prairie? You lied to me. You said there were boys growing on palm trees.'"
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When the film was released, it became the most profitable movie MGM had ever made. Though she had several songs top the Billboard charts, she says more people associate her with that film (and song) than anything else. "Even today, people will say 'Connie Francis-Where the Boys Are,' as if it's one name. It's just synonymous."
Since then, there have been dozens of spring break movies, but she says she hasn't seen them. "I don't like light fare," she says. "I like dramatic movies. There are very few comedies that can make me laugh. I love comics -- Don Rickles and Pat Cooper and Jackie Mason -- but there aren't too many movies I find funny."
She also declined an invitation to appear in the remake of Where the Boys Are, which opens with a scene of a kid rolling a joint with the Bible.
"That was a disaster," she says. "Complete trash."