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Tracy & Hepburn of the Beach Returning : Entertainment: Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon don't see eye to eye about MTV but remain on the same wavelength about the tunes that made them icons. They'll revive those at Knott's.

April 13, 1990|JESS BRAVIN

Wondering what Metallica's latest video really meant? Need help with your lyrical deconstructions of the Ozzy Osbourne canon? Ask an expert: Annette Funicello.

"It's about someone in a hospital who's nothing but a torso," the former Mouseketeer said of the Metallica anthem, "One." "He's come back from Vietnam so terribly injured, so it really is a very, very poignant song."

And Osbourne's "Suicide Solution" doesn't advocate suicide, the cheerful Funicello reveals, but rather explicates the conditions that lead teen-agers to, on occasion, kill themselves.

Like Funicello, Frankie Avalon has also been watching MTV with his children these days. But the former teen idol doesn't quite see eye to eye with his longtime song-and-dance partner.

"I like the New Kids on the Block," he said. "They're a good influence on kids, which is far around from Guns N' Roses. You look at them, and you automatically spit out, 'That's disgusting,' and hopefully, your kid will agree."

But despite their varying views on contemporary music, don't expect the stars of "Beach Blanket Bingo" to fight over creative differences at their Knott's Berry Farm concerts tonight and Saturday. Avalon and Funicello, appearing in what is billed as their first-ever joint concert tour, promise to present such standards as "Pineapple Princess" and "Beauty School Drop-Out" in their original, pre-heavy metal form.

"We're not looking for Van Halen's set of fans," says Avalon, now 50.

"These are the songs that have been with me all my life," he adds. "I don't have to go out there and prove I can do other things."

Funicello, 47, says, "People like to be happy, and that's what we're all about."

Avalon and Funicello--or, more familiarly, Frankie and Annette--had each been established as a successful entertainer by the late 1950s. However, as the 1960s unfolded, Avalon found his repertoire of prom-night songs growing increasingly dated, while Funicello saw post-"Mickey Mouse Club" career prospects as less than overwhelming.

In 1963, however, came the picture that would change their fading careers, catapulting the aging teen crooner and perky TV figure into pop cultural icon-hood: "Beach Party."

Playing off each other like a kind of Huntington Beach Tracy and Hepburn, the two bantered and bussed through a series of surf-side fables, including "Operation Bikini," "Bikini Beach," "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini," "Mr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine" and, of course, "Beach Blanket Bingo." Many found their spunky enactment of a vacuous, clean-cut adolescence to be more inspiring than more serious pictures, such as "Rebel Without a Cause."

But the idylls of the Big Kahuna were not to last.

"That audience that was going to see 'Beach Blanket Bingo' and 'Muscle Beach Party' was all of a sudden going to see these movies about dropping acid," Avalon said.

Moondoggie's mischief became less relevant to a young audience presented with the situations of "The Graduate," "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces."

The directors of "Head," the Monkees' 1968 psychedelic parody, and "Grease," the 1978 send-up of '50s teen exploitation pictures, cast Funicello and Avalon in roles that parodied their images.

More recent films have recognized them as ironic emblems of early-'60s naivete. "Born on the 4th of July," Avalon proudly notes, used his rendition of "Venus" to help symbolize the poignant, if empty, values of protagonist Ron Kovic's pre-Vietnam War life. "It was a really nice feeling," he said.

In "Good Morning Vietnam," Funicello says, a beach movie clip is used to contrast the inane preoccupations of the domestic scene in the 1960s from life in the war zone.

"It was an honor to be chosen," she says.

And, in 1987, they returned to their old turf in "Back to the Beach," a sort of postmodern beach movie that saw a middle-aged Annette fixated on the peanut butter she used to pitch in TV commercials, and a strident, unhappy Frankie on a one-man mission to stamp out his own teen-agers' fun.

While "Back to the Beach" didn't quite establish the duo with the demographically potent 18 to 25 age group of today, it did demonstrate that a sizable number of people still have an appetite for their good-natured antics.

Enough, in fact, to put a sequel in motion--"Surfin' Safari," it's called--and to lead to the 35-city tour that begins tonight. The band backing the stars includes two of Avalon's eight children, Frank Jr., 26, on drums, and Tony, 25, on guitar.

The tour's highlights are scheduled to include an appearance at the Taste of Chicago, the Second City's famous eating orgy on Lake Michigan, and stops at hometowns of Avalon (Philadelphia) and Funicello (Utica, N.Y.).

When not performing, Funicello, who lives in the San Fernando Valley with her husband and three children, and Avalon, a Malibu resident, pursue commercial projects dear to their hearts.

Funicello said she has recently joined the board of directors of a spaghetti sauce company that will market products under Frank Sinatra's name.

"It's kind of a tribute to my Italian heritage," she says.

And Avalon, after all those years before a set painted to look like a beach, now evinces a concern for those who linger in the sun.

"I've got a new product coming out, it's called Frankie Avalon's Twilight Tan," he said.

If you want to learn more about it, however, you'll have to switch a few channels over from the Guns N' Roses special on MTV.

"I'm going on TV at the end of April with a dermatologist and a chemist," he said. "I'm going to present it on the Home Shopping Club."

Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello perform today and Saturday at 5 and 8 p.m. at Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. Admission: included in $15 to $21 general admission to the park. Information: (714) 827-1776.

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