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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

TV Tommy in the Movies

By Tom Ivo

Tommy Ivo's 4-Motor Showboat. Photo by James Morgan
Tommy Ivo's 4-Motor Showboat. Photo by James Morgan

In 1964, Tommy Ivo did a movie called "Bikini Beach." It had the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach gang being visited by singing sensation Potato Bug (a Beatles spoof) and the action revolves around Big Drag (Don Rickles) and a group of dragster racers. Keenan Wynn played a rich guy named Harvey Huntington Honeywagon who was trying to prove that even gorillas could drive these dragsters (and you thought people didn't respect drag racers NOW). My great, great uncle Boris Karloff did a cameo appearance. Stevie Wonder even sang on it. bp

Here's Tommy: I drove my cars in the movie. I had a Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) card (which is one of my retirements now) and the studio wanted me to drive the cars, as I was also the technical advisor (some technical advisor -- monkeys driving cars). I also got Prudhomme (the then worm) a card as they needed another driver when they used two cars. Daaaaaa. The two of us did all the driving. He got the second driver job because we were the best of buddies. Does that tell you how long ago the movie was made? 

I saw someone say on the Standard 1320 mailing list that it was nice to see the S&H car make a full run. I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO DRIVE IT ON THAT RUN! EAT YOUR HEART OUT. But your legs went under the rear end, as I remember it, and I hated it. It just felt weird. Like my first run in a rear motor car.

One interesting thing came up on the first shot of the movie at the drag strip. They put both cars in one lane at Pomona to get the two cars closer together (about 5 to 6 feet) in the smaller picture frame with a closer shot. They stood Don Rickles (the manager and starter in the movie) between them. He had never seen a drag race before and when he pulled up the flag (they used a flag start) and both cars blew by him almost rubbing his elbows, he came running out of the smoke, threw down the flag and his hat, and quit. The studio promised to not do that again without warning him and giving him a chance to agree. 

The only time anyone complained more was Walter Brennan in a series called Tycoon. He and I built the car in the show. I didn't make it to the drag strip on time, and he jumped in the car and won the race (in the story). When he got in, it was fine. But when they tried to get him back out again (it was a front motor car with a tail section), he was over 80 and not very flexible and he couldn't get out. They finally tied a rope on him and hoisted him out and that was the end of his driving career. (It had just been a shot of him getting in without the motor running). Of course, I did the driving for the run (facemasks worked good for stunt doubling). 

It was really fun when I both acted and had my car on the show. Or I guess I should say cars, as they used both my four motor car and my Barnstormer fueler in the Bikini movie.



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