You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

National Bikini Day Salutes Hollywood, From Raquel Welch to Judi Dench

It’s National Bikini Day on July 5, celebrating Louis Reard’s 1946 invention of the swimwear (of course it would be in France!). The swimsuit wasn’t an immediate hit, though, due to 1940s standards of modesty. But pop culture helped bring it to the masses, thanks to such early-1960s icons as Brigitte Bardot, Ursula Andress, and Raquel Welch.

In 1960, the novelty song “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini,” sung by Brian Hyland, became a No. 1 hit in the U.S. and the record company said bikini sales boomed as a result. And in 1962, Andress emerged from the water in the James Bond “Dr. No,” while Bardot appeared in “A Very Private Affair,” both in small white two-piece suits. And nothing was the same after that.

In 1964, American International Pictures released “Bikini Beach,” the third of its “Beach Party” movies starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. “Bikini Beach” featured surfers, bikers, a chimpanzee, Beatlemania, Boris Karloff, and a musical performance by Little Stevie Wonder. In the July 1964 review, Variety said that the screenplay, attributed to three writers (William Asher, Leo Townsend, Robert Dillon), “is mostly a series of gags tied together with a frayed string of logic.”

That movie helped establish the fact that a snappy title was more important than a tight script, and in the next two years, AIP released “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini,” “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine” (which against all logic, even had a title song), and “The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.” The word became an important marketing tool. A very early Bardot film, “La fille sans voile,” had been titled in English as “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter.” But after she and the bathing suit became famous, the film got a U.S. release under the new title “The Girl in the Bikini.” Mon dieu.

Welch wore a bikini in many of her early films, most famously her fur suit in “One Million Years B.C.” but also including “Fathom,” “Lady in Cement,” and “Biggest Bundle of Them All.” It became a rite of passage for every pretty young actress to pose in a bikini. That long list includes such eventual Oscar winners as Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Rita Moreno, Faye Dunaway, Jodie Foster, Halle Berry, and, yes it’s true, Helen Mirren and Judi Dench.

But they were in the film world; TV was more prim.

NBC wouldn’t let Barbara Eden show her navel in her harem outfit on “I Dream of Jeannie” (1965-1970); in those days, tight bathing suits for women were okay on TV, as long as they were one-piece. But among the fast changes in the 1960s: NBC’s “Laugh-In” debuted in 1968, and Goldie Hawn, Chelsea Brown, and Judy Carne could do their go-go dancing in bikinis (though often body paint distracted from their navels).

Carrying on the AIP bigscreen tradition, there have been decades of films like “Bikini Car Wash Company” (1992), “Bikini Drive-In” (1995), and “Bikini Car Wash Massacre” (2017), titles so vivid that plot goes out the window.

Amid all this, there was only one actor bold enough to remind people that a man could be memorable in a two-piece bikini: Jim Carrey, in Fox’s sketch comedy “In Living Color,” which began in 1990.

More TV

  • Why Canadian Comedy 'Workin' Moms' is

    Why Canadian Comedy 'Workin' Moms' is Seeking the 'Netflix Effect'

    In terms of accolades, “Workin’ Moms” is at the top of the Canadian food chain. In two-and-a-half seasons the half-hour scripted comedy has garnered an International Emmy nomination, a dozen Canadian Screen Award nominations, and a 20% higher audience retention rate than the average series on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Meanwhile in its 2017 [...]

  • Brooke Shields Eva Longoria

    Brooke Shields, Jade Payton Join CW Pilot 'Glamorous,' Eva Longoria to Direct

    CW’s pilot “Glamorous” has cast two key roles and found its director. Brooke Shields and Jade Payton have been cast in the pilot, while Eva Longoria has come onboard to direct, Variety has learned. The pilot follows a gender non-conforming recent high school graduate who lands the gig of a lifetime interning at a cosmetics company [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett's Bail Set at $100,000, Must Surrender Passport

    UPDATED: A Chicago judge set a $100,000 bond for Jussie Smollett on Thursday, as the “Empire” actor made his first court appearance. Smollett faces one felony count of filing a false police report. Police allege that Smollett staged a Jan. 29 attack, telling detectives that he was accosted by two men who used racial and [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Accuses HBO of

    Michael Jackson Estate Sues HBO for Non-Disparagement Contract Breach

    The estate of Michael Jackson sued HBO on Thursday, accusing the cable channel of violating a non-disparagement clause by agreeing to run “Leaving Neverland,” a documentary accusing Jackson of sexual abuse. The suit seeks to compel HBO to litigate the matter in a public arbitration process, and claims that the estate could be awarded $100 [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Hoax: Robin Roberts Calls

    Robin Roberts Calls Jussie Smollett Hoax a 'Setback For Race Relations'

    A week after her candid interview with Jussie Smollett about the actor’s alleged attack, “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts has reacted to news of Smollett’s arrest. In a turn of events, Smollett was taken into police custody Thursday and is being charged with filing a false police report. “This touches all the buttons,” Roberts said [...]

  • Mindy Kaling Kate Spade

    Mindy Kaling Exits Universal for New Overall Deal at Warner Bros. TV

    Mindy Kaling is departing Universal Television after more than a decade at the studio. The “Mindy Project” creator has signed a new six-year overall deal at Warner Bros. Television. Under the deal, Kaling will develop, write and produce new television projects for all platforms, including broadcast, cable channels, and streaming. According to sources, Kaling stands [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content