“Eddie & the Cruisers” – 30 Years after
Came to the Hollywood
Tony Marts Reunion - this Saturday at the Ocean City Music Pier, features Billy Walton's great band, and they will play some of the songs from the movie. Billy is now lead guitarist with Southside Johnny, who was a consultant for the film.
It’s been thirty years since
came to the Hollywood
to film “Eddie & the Cruisers,” but it’s still fondly remembered for
documenting the times and the places that were very special to a lot of people.
Set in the 60’s and filmed on location on the Ocean City (NJ) beach and boardwalk and Somers Point Bay Avenue nightclubs, “Eddie & the Cruisers” tried to capture the early spirit of rock & roll and did capture the basic landscape of another, bygone era, a landscape that for the most part, no longer exists.
Based on a novel by P.F. Kluge (Viking Press, 1980), the story of Eddie Wilson and his band The Parkway Cruisers is founded on fact, as Kluge spent some of his formative years at the
and taught high school in Jersey
as does the protagonist – Frank Ridgeway, aka “Wordman,” played by Tom
Berringer in the movie. Vineland
Berringer portays a college student working the summer at the
as a day time clean up guy at Tony Marts. Berringer’s Ridgeway is pushing a
broom around the tile floor, stools up on the bar, when in walks Eddie Wilson.
There’s a sign just above the front doors that reads:“Through these doors walk
the most beautiful girls in the world.” Jersey Shore
Eddie, in his leather jacket, arm around his girl - the lead singer (Helen Schneider) and the rest of the band, says “Tell Tony Eddie & the Cruisers are here.”
If any band actually did that, Tony would have fired them before they ever played a note, because Anthony Marotta was treated with respect and didn’t take anything from anybody, especially some young punks in a band who wanted him to give them a job. Tony fired a band a week, “Get atta here you bums!” was often heard, but Tony wasn’t a character in the movie, though maybe he should have.
Berringer, as Frank Ridgeway the English major, writes a few songs, is taught how to play a few songs on the piano, and is recruited into the band. In Kluge’s book Berringer’s character takes Eddie and the band on a road trip to visit Walt Whitman’s home in
where Eddie is profoundly moved by the dichotomy between the literary home of
the poet and the surrounding ghetto. Berringer gives him a copy of Whitman’s
“Leaves of Grass,” which becomes the title of a mysterious, radical recording
that is lost when Eddie dies in a car crash - he drives his ’57 Chevy into the
bay off the causeway bridge. Camden
Both Kluge and Berringer went on to bigger and better things – Kluge a professor of literature and writer in residence at – College and Berringer a superstar with many popular credits (“Big Chill,”), as did other then unknown actors in the movie that became stars – Helen Schneider, Joe Pantoliano (See: Boardwalk Journal June 2012), Matthew Laurance and Ellen Barkin.
But the movie bombed, crashed at the box office, without any marketing it came and went without much notice.
Then, a few years later, the movie was released on HBO pay per view TV – in cable’s early years, and sales of the movie soundtrack suddenly shot up on the charts (like a bullet), with three of the songs hitting the pop charts as singles – “On the Darkside,” “Wild Summer Nights” and “Tender Years.”
The movie and the music had found a new, younger audience who were beyond the nostalgia and realized the music really was good. They recognized, hey, that’s the story their mom and dad experienced when they were teenagers and rock & roll was new and revolutionary.
The Beaver Brown Band, a real
garage band led by John Cafferty, took their
name from the Beaver Brown paint cans they sat on when jamming in the garage.
They suddenly had three hit songs, record contract offers and got on the
Chitlin’ Circuit, and the HBO revival of the almost forgotten movie also called
for a followup, and suddenly there was money available for reviving the lead
character even though they had killed him off in the original. New
After a brief hint of big time success, Cafferty and Beaver Brown fell back into the bar circuit and I caught them playing an off night at a
Cape May sports bar, where black sax man Wendell
Newton was still holding his own. As Michael “Tunes” Antunes,
was a member of the Parkway Cruisers as well as the Beaver Brown band, but they
killed him off in the film, dying of a drug overdose at a Newton McArthur
Blvd. motel. He’s replaced by
sax and bagpiper, the late Rufus Harley. Philadelphia
“I ain’t dead,”
said to me. “That was just Newton .”
But mot of the “Eddie & the Cruisers” cast had moved on to bigger and better things and couldn’t be enticed back to do an Eddie II. Without Berringer or Schneider or Barkin in the lineup, the follow up “Eddie Lives,” wasn’t really that bad, it just lacked most of the same lead characters and Tony Marts was gone and out of the picture.
One scene that was left on the cutting room floor had Berringer/Ridgeway returning to Tony Marts years later and finding the place closed and boarded up – much like it actually was after the last night in late September 1982, a few months after the film was made.
Harris Berman, who had previously bought
across the street, tore it
down and built the Waterfront, also purchased Tony Marts and tore that down to
build Egos, which was billed as the East Coast’s most lavish disco. Bay
Capturing some of the streetscapes and landmarks that are now gone is one the best attributes of the original “Eddie & the Cruisers” movie, which includes scenes of the
beach and boardwalk, and Somers
City Bay Avenue. There’s
a scene of the band practicing on the second floor roof which overlooks the
bay, Dolfin Dock and the Clam Bar.
The indoor scenes of Tony Marts are pretty accurate as well, showing the college pennants on the walls and ceiling, the half dozen bars and the main stage as it was in its last years, against the far south wall.
While Kluge is non committed in naming any one band that inspired Eddie & the Parkway Cruisers, a number of groups come quickly to mind – Johnny Caswell & the Crystal Mansion,” who had a number of local hits, “Levon & the Hawks,” who spent the summer of ’65 at Tony Marts, and the Soul Survivors (“Expressway to Your Heart).
More to come on this.
More to come on this.
Were you there when they made "Eddie & the Cruisers"?
Do you have any photos?
If so I'd like to hear from you.