Interview by Lee Sobel - (c) Cool Culture Magazine #1, 2001
Lee Sobel: Please give me a little history of PSYCHO BEACH PARTY and how the movie came to be.
Charles Busch: PBP was a play I wrote in 1987 and it ran about a year in New York and has been produced all over the country particularly by colleges and small groups. I first performed it in a small after hours bar/art gallery/performance art space in the East Village called the Limbo Lounge under the title "Gidget Goes Psychotic." It went over like gangbusters there and so we were encouraged to move it to a commercial theatre. The play turned out a lot more interesting than I imagined. I thought it transcended being merely a spoof of Gidget so I changed the title and we opened at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village. My manager, Jeff Melnick, always envisioned it as a movie. I thought it was a dumb idea. It seemed so stage bound but he persisted and finally eight years later, he took on Bob King as a client. Bob had a relationship with Strand, they had distributed his short film "The Disco Years" and were interested in producing his first feature. Melnick teamed us all together and that's how the film got made.
Lee Sobel: Why didn't you direct PBP?
Charles Busch: l’ve never had much interest in directing. I don't like having people coming up to me with millions of questions and having to pretend to have all the answers.
Lee Sobel: What was it like seeing Lauren Ambrose play a role you originated on the stage?
Charles Busch: Chickiet was never a favorite role of mine so it wasn't hard
giving it up. Lauren Ambrose is definitely not Audrey Hepburn to my Julie Andrews. And particularly now, after all these years, it would be just a bit too stylized having me play a sixteen year old girl. Twenty five perhaps. I was very pleased with Lauren's performance. Among other things she looks a lot like one of my very favorite actresses, Hayley Mills.
Lee Sobel: How big of an influence were the original beach party and B movies in general on you to write PBP?
Charles Busch: I'm not particularly a fan at Beach Party movies, I can't really sit through one. I prefer the suspense films we also parody i.e., ’ Spellbound’, ’The Spiral Staircase’, ’Marnie.’ I suppose my favorite genre is what is known as "the woman’s picture.” I adore anything with Ida Lupino, particularly a not very well known film called ‘The Hard Way’, where she plays a dame living in a Pennsylvania mining town who is determined to get herself and her younger sister OUT. She pushes her sister into becoming a big musical comedy star on Broadway and lives to regret it. It's simply heaven.
’Gidget’ was my biggest influence on PBP. I think the movie is quite underrated and I loved the Sally Field TV series as a kid. The AIP movies seem to go on forever but I find Annette very sweet and fun. Her hairdos alone are worth sitting through the film. There's nothing like a girl in a bathing suit and huge beehive hairdo. As an amateur film historian, it's sort of sad seeing great old time actors like Buster Keaton and Basil Rathbone exploiting themselves in those movies. But the rent must be paid.
Lee Sobel: How authentic did you wont the film to be to the period?
Charles Busch: I think it's very important in parody to be as authentic to your source material as possible. I like when it's so close that
sometimes it seems like the actual movie but then goes
Lee Sobel: Did you try to get any of the original actors from the
original beach party movies to appear in PBP?
Charles Busch: I don't think it occurred to anyone to use original actors From those movies. "Back To the Beach” isn't exactly on the AFI's hundred best film list.
Lee Sobel: What did you want to do to give it an updated sensibility?
Charles Busch: One at the themes of the movie is that unlike other films such as ”Pleasantville" which show a nostalgia tor a simpler time, we want to show the beach party movie that could never be made, that behind the picket fence there
always was darkness and sexuality. Perhaps the past wasn't so innocent after all, just protected.
Lee Sobel: Are you a fan of surf music?
Charles Busch: Surf music isn't a particular favorite of mine but if it's playing while I'm in a taxi, I'll stay in the cab till the song is finished.
Lee Sobel: What was the budget for the movie and how many shooting days
Charles Busch: The movie cost around a million and a half and was made in twenty one days.
Lee Sobel: What kinds of problems did you encounter during the shooting?
Charles Busch: You'd have to ask the director about problems making
the movie. I was just an actor and had a perfectly swell time.
Lee Sobel: Do you feel the movie is a bit of a cult-type movie in an age
where no one seems to be making midnight movies anymore?
Charles Busch: I had hoped that the movie would have more at a cross over appeal and not be strictly a cult film, but Strand isn't really equipped as a distributor to open a movie at big mainstream theaters or have the resources to do a big expensive promotion so I guess the movie will have to be perceived as a midnight movie. I just hope it gets a strong enough following to have the longevity at the classic midnight movies.
Lee Sobel: Will there be a sequel?
Charles Busch: I don't think there will be sequel but I’d like to see a TV series ”Monica Stark, LAPD.” I think that would be a hoot.
Lee Sobel: Would you like to see any of your other plays turned into movies?
Charles Busch: I had such a ball making PBP, I'd like to see all of my plays turned into movies, I'm actually in the process at trying to put together a film version of a play I did in L.A. last year called "Die, Mommie, Die!" which is sort of a spoof of Bette Davis/Joan Crawford type horror movies. It's never easy getting financing
but I'm determined to get this one made.
Lee Sobel: PBP was original staged as a play. What was changed in bringing it to the screen?
Charles Busch: The biggest change in the movie from the play is that we added the thriller element, that there really is a killer on the loose. This also gave me a chance to create a great part for myself to play. Captain Monica Stark is much more like the other tough dames I've played on the stage than little Chicklet.
Lee Sobel: Were there any funny, strange, weird or goofy incidents in the making of the movie?
Charles Busch: It was kind of kooky auditioning women to be my body double for my nude love scene with Thomas Gibson. Bob King and I saw a number of women, who all had to take their tops off and pose next to me (also topless) to see whose back matched up to mine. Considering most of the women were beefier than me, with farmer tans and tattoos, it wasn't a hard choice to pick the pretty girl we chose.
Charles Busch: I'm in the middle of rehearsals for my new play ”The Tale of the Allergist's Wile.” It's opening on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It’s I suppose a fairly different kind of play of mine. It is not based at all on a movie genre. It's a contemporary comedy about a middle aged housewife on the upper west side of Manhattan who is in the throes of a wild mid-life crisis. It stars Linda Lavin, Tony Roberts and Michele Lee. It's the first play of mine that I’m not in. It's an exciting period for me and scary and everything in between. It also looks I like I may be performing in my play "Shanghai Moon” (which I may have to retitle since the recent Jackie Chan movie) in London in February.
Lee Sobel: Where were you in '62?
Charles Busch: Unfortunately, 1962 was not a good year for my famiiy.
That was the year my mother died and though I couldn't have known it
at the time, (I was veeery young) her death very much colored the rest of
my life. A heavy answer but a true one.
Lee Sobel: What are you working on next?