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Back to the Beach

by Venice

By Elyssa Goodman

Released 60 years ago, “Where the Boys Are”—a movie based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout—immortalized Fort Lauderdale as a spring break destination. In the film, four college students (played by Paula Prentiss, Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux and Connie Francis, who also sang the film’s titular song) drive south from their chilly Midwestern university in hopes of catching some sun and romance in Fort Lauderdale. While there, the girls’ stories unfold in the city’s wild, nonstop party atmosphere, for better or for worse. Made in the now-classic 1960s beach film style, “Where the Boys Are” was shot on location in Fort Lauderdale. Throngs of extras swarmed A1A at the long-famous Elbo Room and what is now known as B Ocean Resort’s Wreck Bar. One scene was also shot in front of a lush Riviera Drive mansion.

Fort Lauderdale wasn’t actually as much of a tourist destination before the film came out, according to Patricia Zeiler, executive director of History Fort Lauderdale. “It signaled the beginning of Fort Lauderdale being on the tourism map,” she says.

It’s possible, Zeiler says, that the national attention drawn to Fort Lauderdale by “Where the Boys Are” also led to the desegregation of its beaches. When the film was made, the beach was not yet integrated, Zeiler says, and there are few people of color in the movie. However, just months after its release, in 1961, civil rights activists Eula Johnson, Dr. Von Mizell and a group of Dillard High School students enacted a wade-in right by the Elbo Room—a spot that had received so much attention in the film—to protest the beach’s segregation. One year after that, Fort Lauderdale’s beaches were officially desegregated. A historical marker dedicated to the wade-ins still stands on A1A, across from the Elbo Room.

College students originally made their way to Fort Lauderdale for swim meets at what was then the Olympic-sized Casino Pool, now the site of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. But after “Where the Boys Are” debuted and the city received national attention, Fort Lauderdale became a spring break hot spot until the 1980s. By that time, the city had become so inundated with revelers that it began to actually discourage college students from visiting.

Things have calmed down on the beach, and today students are welcome again. Zeiler believes spring break now serves as more of a complement to the city’s year-round tourism—but Fort Lauderdale will always be “Where the Boys Are.” 

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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