The spring break season is well underway and college students are headed to the beaches in hoards. The kids these days, they think this annual collegiate-sponsored week of academic and social wantonness has always been around. Truth is, it came to be in the late 1950s and its wild popularity was ultimately inspired by a Michigan State University student with a candy apple red convertible.
It was the writings of an MSU English professor and novelist, and a subsequent now-classic film that helped launched this American cultural phenomenon into the international mainstream. Glendon Swarthout, PhD was teaching an honors English class in 1958 when he overheard a student – the kid with the red convertible sports car – talking up a planned trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida over the university’s spring break. Intrigued, Swarthout, a colorful character who fancied himself a reincarnation of Ernest Hemingway complete with the mustache, began asking his students about their plans for the week. Lo and behold, a group of students invited him to join them and he gladly accepted.
His week immersed in the bikinied and swim trunked coed scene proved an eye-opening experience that gave Swarthout unprecedented insight – and a great book idea. By this time, the professor and novelist had already seen two of his writings turned into films. His novel, They Came to Cordura (1958) became a film of the same name starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth. His short story A Horse for Mrs. Custer had hit the silver screen as Seventh Calvary (1956) starring Randolph Scott and Barbara Hale. His next novel, Where the Boys Are, would become a New York Times best seller and the subsequent movie of the same name starring crooner cutie Connie Francis the defining cinematic touchstone of a generation.
To fully understand why, you’ll have to read the book, in which main character Merritt and her friends set out to enjoy a week of heady fun, all the while wary of the goings-on in the world around them – namely, the Cold War, nuclear bombs and sexual experimentation. As with most screenplays adapted from novels, the film version of Where the Boys Are is a cleaned up, less controversial, commercial product, but it became a record-breaking box office hit.
Literary controversy and commercial film cheesiness aside, what we here at E3 Spark Plugs love about Where the Boys Are is the abundance of vintage rides that get some screen time, mostly 1940s and 1950s convertibles and what appears to be a 1930s-era S&S 12-column funeral coach. Heck, you could fit a dozen of your dearest friends in some of those roomy rides. So which would you pick for a spring break excursion? Post your picks and pics on the E3 Spark Plugs Facebook fan page.