There’s nothing like the beach early in the morning, quiet and peaceful and mysterious.
---Annette Funicello in Beach Party (1963), the first of many Malibu-based fun-in-the-sun musical comedies
The Malibu Coast: Drive the Wild Surf
The freeway is faster, but it lacks a certain majesty ...
---Peter Fonda, explaining why he prefers the Pacific Coast Highway, in The Limey
Major Roles: How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Alex in Wonderland, True Romance
Behind the Scenery
The origins of Malibu’s world-famous route along Pacific Coast Highway (also known as PCH) date back to the late nineteenth century. Frederick Rindge, a wealthy landowner from Marblehead, Massachusetts, and his wife purchased the sprawling Rancho Malibu in 1891. For several decades, the Rindge clan held on to twenty-four miles of spectacular coastline from Las Flores Canyon to the Ventura County line.
After Mr. Rindge died in 1905, his wife May followed his wish to protect their vast wilderness from intruders. Dubbed the Queen of the Malibu by the local press, May Rindge fought against completion of a coastal highway through her property. According to a brochure from the Marblehead Land Company, which represented her interests in the late 1920s, Mrs. Rindge endured “the longest, bitterest and most dramatic contest in California history to prevent the dismemberment of her estate.” But California won the battle for coastal access in 1925 and opened the entire road four years later. Initially named after Theodore Roosevelt, the late outdoorsman/naturalist and U.S. president, the Roosevelt Highway was later rechristened Pacific Coast Highway.
To help pay her legal bills, May Rindge leased and eventually sold her Malibu real estate to movie folk like Clara Bow, Ronald Colman, studio chief Jack Warner, and silent screen star Anna Q. Nillson who helped form the Malibu Beach Motion Picture Colony in 1926. To this day the enclave, known as The Colony, still thrives as an exclusive parcel of Hollywood history near Pacific Coast Highway and has been home to such diverse personalities as Pamela Anderson, Sting, and former Malibu mayor Larry Hagman. One-time Malibu resident Robert Altman poked fun at The Colony’s security gates and armed patrols in his adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye: in several funny scenes Elliott Gould (as Philip Marlowe) deals with a goofy movie-mad Colony gate guard who can’t resist imitating Walter Brennan and Barbara Stanwyck.
The Sand and Sea at A.I.P.
The Malibu Coast was memorably captured on film in the popular and inane Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello Beach Party series produced by American International Pictures (AIP), the most successful independent film company of its time. Although the films are remembered today for their camp value, they also provide a remarkable cinematic record of the Malibu landscape of the early sixties.
In a climatic chase scene in Pajama Party, you can see how the Malibu Colony Plaza and Civic Center looked more than forty years ago and how little it has changed.
Other films in the series include Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Similar AIP fun-in-the-sun spin-offs include Ski Party, Fireball 500, and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.
“Tourists still arrive in Malibu expecting to see Frankie and Annette dancing around in the sand,” notes beach party film historian Michael Marshall. “The musically romanticized imagery of girls, surfers and cars in these movies defined the coastline, and that ‘endless summer’ aura remains to this day.”
Driving the Malibu Coast
The following driving tour begins on the Santa Monica stretch of Pacific Coast Highway and affords plenty of stopovers where you can soak in the view, stretch your legs, or throw your own beach party (see also MALIBU PIER, PARADISE COVE, ZUMA and LEO CARRILLO chapters 2, 3, and 5). Set your odometer at zero as you start your trip at the Santa Monica Pier. All mileage counts are approximate distances from the pier or the McClure Tunnel at the Western end of the 10 Freeway.
Back on the Beach (1.3 miles north of the pier)
This unique cafe in the sand is based in an old Santa Monica beach location that appeared in Ski Party, starring Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Yvonne Craig, and Dick Miller. To the immediate north is an empty shell of a white building which was part of a massive estate built in 1928, by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst for his mistress (and favorite actress) Marion Davies, hostess of legendary Hollywood beach parties. All that remains of the expansive complex are the guest and servants’ quarters, site of a proposed public beach facility. A block south of the cafe is the former Peter Lawford home where President Kennedy allegedly rendezvoused with Marilyn Monroe. 445 Palisades Beach Rd.; 310-393-8282.
Patrick’s Roadhouse (1.7 miles)
This eccentric and cozy fifteen-table local favorite is known for its pancakes, waffles, and banana cream pie.
Full of nautical memorablilia, this was a house of ill repute in the twenties. Today it attracts celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, Bruce Willis and Sean Penn. 106 Entrada Drive; 310-459-4544.
A short block north of Patrick’s is the Santa Monica Canyon intersection of Chautauqua Blvd., W. Channel Road and Pacific Coast Highway, glimpsed in two different crime dramas shot in 1950: In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart and Quicksand with Mickey Rooney.
The Original California Beach Girl
Pinups of bikini-clad California girls were popular way before the Baywatch era. During World War II, one of the most sought-after poster girls (after Betty Grable) was Noel Neill in her classic shot reclining against the coastal rocks. Later to play Lois Lane in the original Superman TV series, Neill remembers the beach as a volleyball mecca and 1940s hangout for up-and-coming actors waiting for their big break. “All of our agents would contact us at the beach’s pay phone in front of the old bath house,” recalls Neill. “When that phone would ring, we all waited with bated breath and burst into applause when someone got a part.” Still a beach local after all these years, Neill calls nearby Santa Monica Canyon her home and still holds court at Patrick’s Roadhouse.
Copyright © 2006 by Harry Medved