'Where the Boys Are' at 60: Fort Lauderdale prepares to celebrate the flick that put it on the map

Fort Lauderdale, named after Major General William Lauderdale, was considered a pretty sleepy place that through the years was a trading post, World War II military base and a struggling city people passed through on their way to Miami.

Tourists eventually began noticing its pristine beaches and South Florida fine weather. But it was in 1960, when a low-budget romantic comedy called “Where the Boys Are,” put the Broward County city on the map forever.

The modest tourism business got a major boost as movie crews and a cast of movie stars including George Hamilton, Connie Francis and Dolores Hart descended on the town. Using a variety of locations including bars, clubs, home and street locations along the scenic A1A beach road, the movie made landmarks out of routine sites, and the city synonymous with the spring break mayhem. And while the city has moved on since then, its “celebrity” status lives on.

“For Ft. Lauderdale, it was a phenomena,” said Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Carolyn Michaels about the movie tracking the stories of four coeds on a Florida spring break there. And some of that movie history is alive and preserved when it comes to several locations. Among them, the Elbo Room at A1A and Las Olas Boulevard, made famous as the place where Connie Francis (Angie) and Paula Prentiss (Tuggle) turn free hot water, ketchup and crackers into lunch, and where co-star Jim Hutton (TV Thompson) woos Prentiss.

“We always stop here because we loved the movie and we still get a kick out of crossing the street in front of the bar that was also part of the movie,” said Donald James, a New Jersey resident and once-upon-a-time Ft. Lauderdale spring-breaker, who, with his wife, were taking pictures of each other with the historic bar sign in the background. “We are long past spring break age, the bar looks a lot different, even the city is much different now, then it did then but the memories from spring break 60 years ago, priceless.”

Another landmark that is part of informal “Where the Boys Are Tour” is the Wreck Bar, a historically preserved beachside bar and lounge located in what was at the time, the Yankee Clipper Hotel, now the B Ocean Hotel. The draw? Huge windows over the bar that give you an up-close-and-personal look into the underwater tank and its nightly mermaid shows.

In the movie, the main characters visit the imaginary “Tropical Isle” bar for drinks and the show. Taken with the mermaid featured in the tank, Hutton jumps in and well, see the movie if you want to know the rest.

Today, the dark shiplap and brass-decorated bar and lounge shaped like the inside of a ship, features an early evening family show as well as late night burlesque mermaid show and a “Mermen” show on certain evenings for the ladies.

“Absolutely, people come here to see where the movie scene was filmed,” said Ken Barr, the hotel’s Experience Manager who noted another famous film, “Analyze This” was also filmed there. “We still have a lot of spring break activity here and the mermaid show while sitting bar is a classic, even today.”

If you are really curious, head over to Riviera Drive to get a sneak peek at the exterior of the mansion that was “home” to Hamilton’s wealthy Ivy League character, Ryder Smith, and see assorted beach and waterway views that were all used as part of the flyover and street scenes, circa 1960.

While local legislation has pretty much stymied the college break craziness featured in the film, and city sprawl has transformed the city into one that attracts an older, more sedate crowd, locals will always embrace the memorable fame.

“At the time, it gave the city a boost and brought it to the forefront,” said Michaels, noting that filming locations and history are still part of today’s popular water taxi and river tours around the city. “The movie is absolutely tied to the city.”

MaryEllen Fillo is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.