The Flickers: Where the Boys Are

Where the Boys Are (1960)

Starring Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux, Connie Francis, George Hamilton, Jim Hutton, Frank Gorshin, Chill Wills and Barbara Nichols. Directed by Henry Levin. From Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

All images © MGM or current ownership. No ownership intended by the author.

It is early April at a midwestern college and a full-on blizzard is in progress. Merritt Andrews (Hart) and Tuggle Carpenter (Prentiss) meet on campus to discuss their upcoming trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Merritt says she should really stay in town and study and Tuggle enlists Melanie Tolman (Mimieux) to help convince her.

In class, Mer comes up against an old lady teacher who backs her in a corner, pumping her for her opinion on “inter-personal relationships”. Merritt’s answers – that a girl must play ball to some extent on the first date if she ever wants to have a second date – shock the teacher who sends Merritt to the dean. The dean reluctantly suggests Merritt might be expelled but holds off making a decision until after spring vacation. Merritt decides she needs to get away and joins Tuggle, Melanie and the fourth member of their group, tomboy Angie (Francis), in Tuggle’s car and the gang heads for Lauderdale.

One of the greatest film entrances of all time.

On the way down, the girls pick up a boy from Michigan State, TV Thompson (Hutton), and he and Tuggle hit it off. Once ensconced at the Fairview Apartments, the girls begin to lay out their plans for dealing with the opposite sex – and to collect stray girls who can’t afford rooms of their own. Melanie is entranced by the idea of meeting, falling in love with and marrying a boy from the Ivy League. Tuggle dates TV who begins to probe for sex and is gently rebuffed by Tuggle who is determined to find a husband the chaste way.

The beautiful Fairview Apartments.
Collecting girls.

Melanie separates herself from the other girls and begins to make friends with two boys who are obviously planning their attack on the girl. The other three head to the beach and Tuggle meets TV who takes her to the Elbo Room for some potato chips and beer. Mer and Angie head to a coffee shop to scrounge some hot water for their shared tea bag. Later, TV increases the pressure on Tuggle but she resists and heads back to the apartment alone.

Next day, Ryder Smith (Hamilton) makes a smooth entrance and takes Merritt off to the Sheiks for a cocktail. Ryder then takes Merritt home to his grandfather’s estate and serves her dinner on his yacht. They discuss the various techniques guys use to coerce girls into bed and Merritt proves herself intelligent and no push-over.

Enter visually impaired Basil Demetomos (Gorshin) who is a double bass player in a dialectic jazz quintet who connects with Angie. Merritt and Ryder continue to debate submitting versus abstinence and poor Mel gets more deeply involved with the two boys.

During a big night out at the Tropical Isle, TV falls for Lola Fandango (Nichols), an underwater performer and madness erupts at the night club. After working things out with the police, the gang adjourns to the beach where TV ignores Tuggle, focusing on Lola, and Ryder keeps up the pressure on Merritt. Things break up when Melanie desperately needs rescuing. As spring break ends, each member of the group realizes that they have turned a corner and everything has changed.

Where the Boys Are is the quintessential spring break movie and it gave birth to a plethora of similar films. Perhaps what sets it apart is its adherence to a certain seriousness as it looks at the pivot point of life and how it affects this particular group of kids. It also helps that it has a cast as good looking as this one is and to have been shot partly on location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The source of this excellent film bears some discussion. The colourfully-named Glendon Swarthout (Michigan, 1918-1992) was a writer who is remembered for penning notable – and notably different – novels that were made into films. Swarthout (the name is Dutch) served in the Army during World War 2 and then became a teacher who sold short stories to magazines. One of these stories became 7th Cavalry, a 1958 Randolph Scott film that is mentioned as being watched by the kids in the novel Where the Boys Are. His second novel was They Came to Cordura, the tale of a plan to capture Pancho Villa in Mexico in 1916 that was filmed in ’59 and starred Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth and Tab Hunter and featured a title song sung by Francis. Swarthout’s third novel was Where the Boys Are.

My copy

Later, Glendon would publish Bless the Beasts and Children (1970) that was made into a film in 1972 directed by Stanley Kramer and “starring” Billy Mumy. Then in 1975 came his second notable work, The Shootist, that was made the following year into John Wayne’s swan song. The script for The Shootist was the only feature screenplay written by Swarthout’s son, Miles Hood Swarthout, to whom the book Where the Boys Are is dedicated.

Where the Boys Are is an odd novel. First off is the fact that the narrator of the book – Merrit with one “t” as opposed to two “t“‘s everywhere else – is a female while the author is male; you just wonder if Merritt’s female perspectives then are legitimate. Secondly, the book contains supposedly hip lingo and the reader wonders if it was really ever used. Aside from these two things, the book, as you might expect, is much racier than the film. For example, in the novel, TV Thompson has subsidized his trip south by selling fake IDs and has obtained his nickname as a result of possibly raping a girl back home. In the screenplay, the dean takes spring break to decide if Merritt should be expelled while in the novel the only school thought concerning Merritt throughout her holiday is choosing a major. And while Film Merritt talks a good game but remains chaste, Book Merrit has sex with all three male leads – TV, Ryder and Basil – and winds up pregnant! “Not only had I been erotic with all three of them…” Nobody would say it that way, by the way. “Incidently, (sic) I was preg. That’s right, p.r.e.g. I’d been sure for five days…I hadn’t the faintest who was the father…I had been carried away by Florida at the beginning, then when I had recovered my poise and morals and maturity, etc., it was too late.”Preg“. Has anybody ever said that? Also, she has sex with three guys in the space of a week and then “realizes” she is pregnant? Anyways, It should come as no surprise that none of this was included in the screen treatment.

Neither was the whole Cuba thing. The Lola Fandango of the book – Ramona, the Scylla of Sex – is aligned with Cuban nationals and gets the kids, particularly TV, involved in raising funds to buy weapons to ship to Castro in Cuba. The producers, of course, didn’t want this included in the film saying “politics does not belong in entertainment”. I sought out a copy of the novel and found one published in what I assume is 1960 with no mention of the film on the jacket. I’m happy to own it and have read it twice but it is not a favourite. The spirit and tenor of the film is much preferable.

Watch for this guy. I love his technique. Legend.

Legendary Hollywood producer Joe Pasternak was the man behind our film. The Hungarian-American was responsible for the career of Canada’s Own Deanna Durbin and for producing many musicals for MGM. His partial filmography includes Mad About Music (1938), Anchors Aweigh (1945) and Love Me or Leave Me (1955) previous to our film and Girl Happy (1965), Spinout (1966) and The Sweet Ride (1968) afterwards. Our screenwriter is George Wells, an Academy Award winner for Best Original Screenplay for 1957’s Designing Woman.

The director here is the prolific Henry Levin. Levin had been active through the Forties directing all manner of films from adventure to films noir. I may have first encountered him through his having directed a favourite of mine, 1957’s Bernardine. He directed Pat Boone twice more before helming our film. Later, he shepherded Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee through their vehicle If a Man Answers (1962) before working with Dolores Hart again in the charming Come Fly With Me (1963). Then he pleased me by directing two of the four Matt Helm films and then oversaw the surprisingly good Fred Williamson film That Man Bolt in 1973.

All fans of classic film likely know by now that Dolores Hart left Hollywood to become who she remains today – Mother Dolores Hart, a Catholic nun. Born Dolores Hicks in ol’ Chi in 1938, her father, Bert Hicks, had been a minor actor which prompted Dolores to pursue a career in Hollywood. Also known by many – especially those of us who spend much of our lives in Elvis World – is that Hart made her big screen debut alongside Presley in his sophomore effort, Loving You. She also appeared in the finest of all King Movies, 1958’s King Creole. Other than these two and our film, Hart made 6 other films for a total of nine in the span of 6 years.

During a promotional tour for Come Fly With Me, Dolores drove to the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut and entered the convent where she remains, being named prioress of the monastery in 2001. By all reports, Mother Dolores retains a sunny disposition and is often willing to harken back to her days as an actress. She reached out to and received support for the abbey from the likes of Paul Newman and Patricia Neal and welcomed old friend Paula Prentiss to the abbey – the two took a drive in Paula’s convertible. She published her memoir, The Ear of the Heart, in 2013, a book I’m happy to have found at a garage sale and she was the subject of the short documentary God is the Bigger Elvis, a film nominated for an Oscar in 2012. How nice that Mother Dolores attended the ceremony that year. And speaking of Oscars, Hart is the only nun to be an Oscar-voting member of the Academy. What a pleasant story about this remarkable lady.

And I must share this touching postscript to the story of Dolores Hart. When she began her life as a nun, she broke off her engagement to one Don Robinson, a Los Angeles architect. She told him that she loved him but that not all loves “wind up at the altar”. The two remained close friends and Don visited Dolores at the abbey every Christmas and Easter until his death in 2011. Don Robinson never married. Now, what had his life been like? Think about it. Fascinating.

Paula Prentiss was born Paula Ragusa (Sicilian) in San Antonio. Before she hit high school, she was 5-feet, 10-inches tall and while attending university she was discovered by MGM. Where the Boys Are was not just her first film, it was the first professional acting she had ever done. Prentiss proved a hit thanks in no small part to her rapport with co-star Jim Hutton. Afterwards, the two were touted as a new William Powell and Myrna Loy and were paired again in other films. Prentiss has enjoyed only a middling career in but 2 dozen films with most being notable – if at all – for reasons other than Paula’s inclusion. I’ve always enjoyed her in Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964) and she was also in The World of Henry Orient (1964), In Harm’s Way (1965), very decorative in the ridiculous What’s New Pussycat? (1965), Catch-22 (1970) and The Stepford Wives (1975). Attempts to star her in films like Move (1970) with Elliott Gould and The Black Marble in 1980 with Robert Foxworth were unsuccessful.

Paula is perhaps best known for her long marriage to actor and director Richard Benjamin. They worked together in the short-lived sitcom He & She that ran for 26 episodes during the 1967-68 television season. While unsuccessful, it has been declared “ahead of it’s time” with a “sophisticated approach to comedy (that) was viewed as opening doors” to shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show. They were paired on the big screen in 1981’s Saturday the 14th, a bomb of a horror-comedy that was ravaged by critics. And how about this. What may be Paula’s last film role is as retired horror writer Iris Blum in I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House from Netflix in 2016. It was written and directed by Osgood Perkins, the son of Anthony Perkins, who had been a friend of Richard Benjamin’s and Paula’s. I like Paula Prentiss, always have.

Little Yvette Mimieux (1942-2022) was born in LA to a French father and Mexican mother. Yvette first gained visibility when she landed the role of the female lead Weena in The Time Machine, released 6 months prior to our film. Afterwards, she carried on and forged a career that bears some similarities to that of Paula Prentiss. Yvette perhaps appeared in even less notable films than Paula but, if you look at the titles, what Yvette does have over Paula is a filmography filled with cooler movies. These substantial and interesting films include Diamond Head (1962), Dark of the Sun (1968), Three in the Attic (1968), The Delta Factor (1970), Skyjacked (1972) and The Neptune Factor (1973). And you want a deep cut? Yvette co-wrote and produced the 1984 TV movie Obsessive Love. She was married three times; first when she was seventeen and secondly to director Stanley Donen from 1972 until 1985.

Singer Connie Francis (b. 1937) also made her film debut in Where the Boys Are. By the time she was tapped to appear in this movie, she had already scored some of her biggest hits, songs like “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own”, “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Lipstick on Your Collar”. Connie does well here as hockey-playing Chicagoan Angie and she renders the wonderful title song, one that hit #4 on the Pop charts for her. And Connie wasn’t done; she scored another 6 Top Ten hits after this including another Number One song, 1962’s “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You”. Today, she holds a place as perhaps the quintessential female pop singer of this era, so much so that even Don McLean reportedly referred to her as “the queen” is his seminal slice of pop history, “American Pie”. MGM crafted a few vehicles for Connie after the success of this film although whatever quality they may have had was strictly ephemeral and is focused on Connie’s singing. Follow the Boys re-teamed her with Paula Prentiss and in Looking For Love she was joined again by Jim Hutton and also by Canadian Joby Baker (b. 1934). When the Boys Meet the Girls was more a series of musical performances than a narrative film and that was it for Francis on the big screen. Interesting to note, though, that these first two films had notable directors – Richard Thorpe and Don Weis, respectively.

Connie at right. This is one of the many cute scenes showing the girls hanging around their apartment.

The wonderful story you may have heard about the title song of our movie is true. Francis was good friends with Neil Sedaka and his songwriting partner, Howard Greenfield. When she was chosen to appear in this film and to sing the title song, she was told that the cream of the crop of songwriters was on hand to pen the tune. Oh, no, Mr. Pasternak, Connie said, I have two fellas who write songs for me. She contacted Neil and Howie and told them to get to work. The two men came up with two different songs called “Where the Boys Are” and all three agreed on the one they preferred. The films producers though, chose the other one and seems they were right. As of this writing, Connie Francis remains a legend of this era. She has suffered some horrific events in her life and still endures, appearing on stage around the world and releasing memoirs. Read my article on Bobby Darin to learn of the fascinating connection between the two.

Sharpie George Hamilton was born in Memphis in 1939. He was not very pleased to be cast as Ryder Smith as George’s aspirations were towards more serious films. But looking hard at his filmography, it becomes clear that George is a “movie star” more than he is an actor with a stellar or an underappreciated body of work. His very next film is a good indication, though, of the direction he hoped his career would take. Angel Baby was a serious drama that was directed by deep cut legend Paul Wendkos and one that was the first film for Burt Reynolds. Interestingly, George sang a song over the closing credits of Angel Baby. He worked non-stop in film and on television through the Sixties and Seventies until he scored a hit in 1979 in Love at First Bite playing a parody of Count Dracula. Two years later, Zorro, the Gay Blade was popular but his days as a leading man were over. No matter. George Hamilton scores points for his longevity and for his sense of humour. He’s always been able to laugh at himself and that’s cool.

Jim Hutton has a mug we’re all used to seeing but – again – he’s another actor who never really broke through. New Yorker Jim served in the US Army starting in 1956 and there he starred in dozens of training films which served as an apprenticeship before hitting Hollywood. Like most of his female co-stars in Where the Boys Are, Hutton appeared in only a smattering of films, some of them – like his two with John Wayne – being notable. His last movie I stumbled on while looking into Julie Adams. 1975’s Psychic Killer is interesting and this Ray Danton-directed thriller is worth looking up. He scored a job during the 1975-76 television season when he portrayed the famous sleuth in Ellery Queen. With his first wife, Jim became the father of two kids, the second of which is Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton. Sadly, Jim Hutton died of liver cancer in 1979. He was only 45.

Angie has a hilarious line about TV and his headwear that likely wouldn’t fly today.

Never mind The Riddler, I love Frank Gorshin because of this film (and because he was in 12 Monkeys). More a comedian and impressionist, Frank did appear in quite a few films and scores of television episodes. He is of course best known for his portrayal of madman villain The Riddler on TV’s Batman. Pittsburgh’s Gorshin is hilarious as jazzbo Basil in our film. Almost as importantly, his fingering on his instrument looks authentic – my regular readers will know how important that is to me. Dig when Basil abruptly breaks from conversation to turn and yell at his guitarist “no! No minor 7th there!” and when he scoffs at the band at the Tropical Isle; “they’re probably using old Mozart arrangements”.

Where the Boys Are is a “beach party” movie but it is one of the few that is also a quality film, one who’s script has legitimate things to say about teenage life. It was released at the dawn of such films and serves as a precursor and – like other prototype pictures – it spawned many clones of lesser quality that soon followed.

From the outset our film scores a hit with its stunning footage of Fort Lauderdale circa 1960. Just look at the opening credits – the waterways that are traversed are breathtaking. Imagine living at one of the many gorgeous homes pictured like the one with a swimming pool just feet from the water where a boat is docked. Just unreal. Many beach scenes were shot on location and the Elbo Room, a Lauderdale institution, is still located at the start of the strip at 241 South Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. Opened in 1938, you can still get a beer there but that’s it – no food is served. According to, the place is a bit run-down today and the bathrooms are “frightening”. This place that classifies itself as a “dive bar” was the first establishment to have live video feeds available on the internet (1996) and has live music playing every minute it is open. Check it out at The Fairview Apartments set may have been on a Hollywood backlot but, dang, I would so love to hang out there. Shoots, I would live there, plumbing or no.

Alright, let’s get down to it. As I’ve said, this film has a few pertinent things to say about “inter-personal relationships”. From the get-go we see a bold-for-the-time depiction of the things girls had to deal with – and perhaps still do – when dealing with the dumber sex. Merritt carries the standard for all girls during her discourse with the musty, old prof, Dr. Raunch, a woman who is ill-prepared to deal with the realities of dating – as she has likely never had one herself.

Hart plays it well as Merritt tries to remain respectful though she is being backed into a corner by the prof. Merritt says that her textbooks are out of date and she laments the fact that in the real world it’s so complicated. Boys, she says, want to date girls who are willing to go a certain distance on a first date but it’s a bridge too far when Merritt states that she thinks premarital sex is OK. Now, why does she think that way? Is she “loose”? No, Merritt is not promiscuous but she is practical. She accepts that sex is part of relating to potential mates and while it’s much more important to boys, it is not necessarily something for girls to shy away from. It is in fact something they have to accept, something that girls may have to concede – and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Merritt knows the rules and what girls are up against in the dating world. Melanie hears this and decides – at first, tentatively – to apply Merritt’s “wisdom” to her own life, especially when she gets to Lauderdale among boys from the Ivy League. The paths of these two girls diverge when they get to the tropics.

Merritt is intelligent and knows herself well. The scene between her and Ryder on his yacht is handled excellently. The two parry back and forth with Ryder pressuring Merritt to submit while Merritt sees what he’s about clearly and cuts him off at the legs. The most enjoyable moment in the film for me comes during this scene. Ryder comes right out with it and asks Mer to spend the night on the yacht with him. Merritt grins and slyly says “where will you be?” and this is great in itself. Hamilton comes back equally cunning with “oh, not far”. Merritt, though, retains the upper hand and the control. Melanie is not so lucky.

See, Mel is simply wired differently. She heard what Mer said in class and decides that this gives her permission or sanction to proceed. But she is susceptible to the wiles of the phoney rats she hooks up with and doesn’t know herself, the boys or the situation as well as Merritt knows hers. This is a bold cinematic path for this film to take. Melanie is passed back and forth. In the novel, it is a girl outside of Merritt’s circle who becomes a “punchboard” and then tries to drown herself in the aftermath.

Merritt tries to cheer Mel up by taking her along on a cruise on Ryder’s yacht. If Melanie can’t be happy in these surroundings, she’s really in trouble.

As Melanie travels a dangerous path, she and Merritt talk. Melanie defends herself saying she can handle things but the rules of engagement are best applied by those who have a tighter grip on themselves and who are more equipped to spot warning signs. In other words, Merritt’s own “rules” apply best to her and should not be adopted by others, especially by one as naive as Melanie. It doesn’t help that Mel is bent on marriage and thinks that giving herself will lead to a proposal when actually giving herself is one sure way to not get proposed to. Merritt defends herself and her viewpoint with a significant line; “I was talking about people in general. Not kids who go out and get drunk together”. She was talking about mature young people like herself.

As Melanie’s situation turns decidedly sour, to say the least, Merritt begins to crumble under Ryder’s relentless pressure. Her virtue is saved by Melanie’s accident and this gives her time to think. There is a great scene at the hospital that allows Merritt to step back. She becomes enraged at all boys who use girls for their own personal pleasure and feels that Ryder is no better. He feebly defends himself but is forced to accept Mer’s point. The finest and most substantial scene in the film comes when Merritt visits Melanie in her hospital bed. Mel is despondent – “I lived it up!”, she says, sarcastically – and wants to go home to her father. As she fades under sedation, Merritt breaks down and cries, cries for all that has been lost and because of the immensity of what becoming an adult can mean to all kids.

Melanie in trouble.

And a quick note about stupid TV Thompson and Tuggle. Tuggle wants to be a wife and mother but won’t give in to TV. His “frustration” leads him to be infatuated with Lola – “what lungs!” – and he is mean to Tuggle, tossing her aside while he frolics with the older woman. Then while Tuggle is at the hospital, TV shows up penitent. All he says is “I wasn’t anyplace else tonight” and Tuggle runs to him! I hate that he gets off so easy.

The gang heads home; Merritt stays behind.

The ending of the film always absolutely enchants me. Spring break is over and the beach is deserted. This in itself fascinates me. Merritt has stayed behind to wait for Melanie to get out of the hospital and while sitting alone on the beach, Ryder shows up. They make plans to meet during the remainder of the school year and Ryder says he will drive Merritt and Melanie back to school. Delightful and thought provoking. This gets my imagination going thinking of all the scenarios as this trio drives home late from spring break.

This cast is spot on, the settings are delightful and the story is loaded with laughs but still packs a punch. Where the Boys Are is a wonderful piece of ephemera depicting the joyous spring breaks of the past. What we see is good, old fashioned reckless abandon – not the sometimes violent criminality of today’s spring break. This movie is the perfect mix of goofy fun and poignant commentary.

The End


  1. Great piece, as usual. Thank you for the more intense insight and information about one of my favorite movies. Actually, Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss stole my heart and the movie. As for George Hamilton, I don’t think I ever saw him in the subsequent self-deprecating type of roles you mention. However, I do recall him portraying Hank Williams in the 1964 film “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and doing a great job. I was just a kid when I saw it on TV. Also, he played the son of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. In the 1961 movie “By Love Possessed.” That was excellently physical casting – the dark, handsome Hamilton as the son of even more handsome Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

    • Yes, I just chose to dial it back a bit – I could easily have talked more about George’s films. Perhaps the highlight would be the Hank Williams film – as in it was a big spotlight for him in a starring role in a high profile film. And yes, By Love Possessed I used to own on VHS. Good movie. Thanks a lot for reading and for your comment!

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