Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Bye Bye Birdie

Bye Bye Birdie
A satire on a rock and roll singer, directed by George Sidney, who had directed musicals such as ‘Pal Joey’, ‘Showboat’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate.’ The 135 minute film, released in 1963, was based on the Broadway musical which had opened in April 1960 and was obviously inspired by the announcement in 1958 that Elvis was being drafted into the army and the hysteria of his female fans when they heard the news. Both Dick Van Dyke and Paul Lynde, from the original stage production, were featured in the movie. The choreography was by Onna White. The original book was by Michael Stewart and the additions in the film screenplay by Irving Brechner strayed away from the stage musical in various ways. The music was by Charles Strouse and Lyrics by Lee Adam.

Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) is an Elvis-like singer whose fans are devastated when he receives his draft papers. Songwriter Albert Peterson (Dick Van Dyke) is currently in debt and sees a way out if he can get Birdie to record one of his songs before he enters the army. Albert’s girlfriend, Rosie DeLeon (Janet Lee in a black wig), is the head of Birdie’s fan club and hatches a publicity stunt that will help both artist and songwriter. She meets Ed Sullivan and proposes that he has Birdie on his show, in a farewell performance, before entering the army.

Birdie will sing a song and then give a goodbye kiss, as he joins the forces, to one of his female fans representing the young teenage girls of America.
Sullivan likes the idea and tells her to go ahead. Albert and Rosie also hope that the money he’ll earn from a hit song will lead to them getting married and Albert moving away from his possessive mother Mea (Maureen Stapleton). Checking her fan club database, Rosie picks on Kim McAfee (Ann-Margret) from the small hick town of Sweet Apple, Ohio. Kim has just received a pin from Hugo Peabody (Bobby Rydell) officially confirming that he is her boyfriend.

When told about the Birdie kiss, both items of news delight her – but not her parents Harry (Paul Lynde) and her mother Doris (Mary LaRoche), who don’t like the idea of a rock and roll singer kissing their daughter on network television. Birdie arrives in the town in a skin tight lame suit and Kim’s parents are not enthused to learn that Birdie is to stay at their home until the Ed Sullivan appearance. A number of sub-plots were introduced that were not in the musical, with Albert also being versed in chemical expertise and creating a speed-like pill to pep up Birdie’s performance.

The Moscow Ballet is given a spot on the show which means that Birdie’s appearance might be cancelled. Irving Brechner, who had scripted some Marx Brothers movies, had been brought in by Columbia to introduce some comedy and is likely to have written the scene in which the speed drug is slipped to ballet members whose performance is then so rapid that it leaves enough time for Birdie to appear and sing ‘One Last Kiss'. Chaos ensues when a jealous Hugo punches Birdie.

The film was nominated for ‘Best Picture – Musical or Comedy’ in the Golden Globe Awards and Ann-Margret was nominated as Best Actress (not bad for her movie debut). In the Oscars it was nominated for ‘Best Sound’, ‘Best Score’ and ‘Best Adapted Score'. When the film opened in Radio City, New York, in April 1963 it grossed more money than any film in the theatre’s 35 year history.
Bye Bye Birdie

Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie The soundtrack album, issued in 1963, featured: ‘Overture (Bye Bye Birdie – Main Title); How Lovely to Be A Woman; The Telephone Hour; Put On A Happy Face; Honestly Sincere; Hymn For A Sunday Evening; One Last Kiss; One Boy; Kids; A Lot of Livin’ To Do; Rosie and Bye Bye Birdie. Ann-Margret’s appearance in this film led to her being cast opposite Elvis in ‘Viva Las Vegas’ the same year, which was also directed by George Sidney.

Ann-Margret was 22 when she appeared in the film, but the part was that of a 16 year old girl. When she originally met director George Sidney in his office to discuss the part in the script he’d sent her, she was dressed in a pleated skirt with flats to try and look sixteen. Sidney had decided to cast her because he’d seen her dancing at The Sands in Las Vegas. He said, “I saw how you looked in Las Vegas. It wasn’t sixteen.”

A Broadway sequel, ‘Bring Back Birdie’ in 1981, only lasted for four performances and a TV movie of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ was made in 1995, while a film re-make is currently in the planning stages.
Ann-Margret sings ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ at the opening and closing of the film. When Hugo and Kim get pinned, her friend Ursula takes to the phone and, shown on split screen, soon all the teens in Sweet Apple are hearing about the romance to the song ‘The Telephone Hour.’ As the 16 year old Kim celebrates her coming of age, while changing clothes, she sings ‘How Lovely To Be A Woman.’

As Birdie is about to enter town, the female fan club members sing his praises, the jealous boys the opposite. When Birdie arrives he sings ‘Honestly Sincere’ to the townspeople.

The McAfee family sing ‘Hymn For A Sunday Evening’ dressed in robes. In ‘One Boy’ Ann-Margret, as Kim, sings to her jealous boyfriend to indicate that he is the only one for her and Bobby Rydell, as Hugo, harmonises. ‘Put On A Happy Face’ is a cheerful song sung by Dick Van Dyke to Janet Leigh. ‘Kids’ is a number sung by Paul Lynde, as Kim’s father, with support from Albert’s mother, played by Maureen Stapleton.

‘One Last Kiss’ is the number penned by Albert for Birdie to sing on the television show and we are shown him rehearsing it. ‘Got A Lot Of Livin’ To Do’ is a bouncy, choreographed dance number begun by Birdie and taken over by Kim and Hugo. When Birdie sings ‘One Last Kiss’ on the show, Hugo appears and punches him. ‘Rosie’ is Albert’s love song to his fiancée, now approved of by his mother. Kim ends the movie reprising ‘Bye Bye Birdie.

The book-ends of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ were actually filmed six months after the film had been completed and edited. The studio were happy with it but George Sidney told them that he wanted to shoot more film of Ann-Margret singing the title song for a new beginning and end for the movie. The studio thought he was crazy but Sidney went ahead, putting down $60,000 of his own money to shoot her singing the opening and closing tune on a treadmill with a wind machine blowing her hair. The studio reimbursed him the money.

A number of songs from the original stage musical were excised from the film, including ‘An English Teacher’ (because Dick Van Dyke’s profession was changed), ‘A Healthy American Boy’, ‘What Did I Ever See In Him?’ and ‘Talk To Me.’ The name Conrad Birdie was devised and used because Conrad Twitty was a rock and roll singer enjoying a deal of popularity at the time.


Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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