The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘Where the Boys Are’

Posted on | March 6, 2011 | 15 Comments

“I’m not frightened and I’m not being coy. It’s just that I’ve … I’ve never done anything like this before.”
— Merrit Andrews (Dolores Hart) in Where the Boys Are

I’m on deadline tonight and, knowing I’d be working late, decided to take a late afternoon nap. Drowsing with the TV on, I awoke and flipped channels, landing on TCM to find myself entranced by the 1960 spring-break classic, Where the Boys Are.

On one level, it’s a silly teen comedy, with ridiculously corny elements, e.g., Frank Gorshwin as a hipster leading a “dialectic jazz” combo with Connie Francis joining in to sing. On another level, however, there is much to recommend Where the Boys Are. The wide-screen Technicolor cinematography of semi-tropical Florida scenery is eye-catching in a way films nowadays so seldom are. The scenes are composed in a way that any student of design would admire. The story is a bit of teen-bikini beach fluff, as Joseph Riesenback says in his IMDB review:

Four college girls escape the freezing north during spring break and head to Ft. Lauderdale because as the title says, that’s where the boys are. Not much to make a film about I suppose, but stories have hit the big screen with a lot less plot than that going for them.

What director Joe Pasternak does with that lightweight plot, however, is quite remarkable. Where the Boys Are is something of a morality play, with Dolores Hart playing an intellectual student who espouses avant-garde ideas about sex (not very explicitly; this was, after all, an MGM musical in the Eisenhower era). An impressionable freshman, played by Yvette Mimieux, decides to put those avant-garde ideas into action, with predictably disastrous results.

Where the Boys Are is a fascinating time capsule, recalling a time when “good girls don’t” was a widely recognized moral standard, and youthful romance was seen primarily as a means to an end, namely marriage

The word for this process is, of course, “courtship.” I imagine many young women — too young to have known the customs and rituals of that bygone era — who take time to watch the relatively innocent romantic mischief of Where the Boys Are must ask themselves, “How could it ever have possibly been that way?” And I also imagine they wish there were a time machine to take them back to that romantic place.

Myself, I was mesmerized by the beauty of Dolores Hart. Oh, those wide-set blue eyes! What an altogether lovely girl. And a bit of research led me to discover that in 1957, at age 18, she was cast in Loving You with Elvis Presley. This cinematic pairing was such a hit that she was next cast opposite Presley in his best film, 1958’s King Creole.

Well, whatever happened to Dolores Hart? Some readers already know the answer, and are probably smiling at the surprise that’s coming next, because Dolores Hart became Mother Dolores.

Yes — she’s a 72-year-old Benedictine nun, prioress of the Abby of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. At age 24, after “some unhappy experiences in love matters,” she broke off her engagement to a Los Angeles businessman and entered a convent. That’s the kind of surprise ending that no Hollywood screenwriter could have scripted.

For me, however, deadline is now approaching and I must get back to grinding out a column about something completely different. (Hint: “Winning!”) But don’t let that prevent you from enjoying the innocent romance of Where the Boys Are, which will be all the more enjoyable to watch if you keep in mind what happened to that lovely blue-eyed starlet.


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