Bye Bye Birdie Turns 50

Looking back on one of the earliest movies aimed at a teenage audience

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It might not seem old to some, but Bye Bye Birdie – George Sidney’s high-kicking movie adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name – was released 50 years ago today (April 4, 1963). Starring Jessie Pearson as Conrad Birdie, a hip-swinging Elvis-like singer, Dick Van Dyke as songwriter Albert Peterson, Janet Leigh as his lover Rosie DeLeon, and Ann-Margret as teen Kim McAfee, the comedy would become era-defining as one of the earliest movies aimed at a teenage audience.

In a plot as comically twisted as it is ridiculous, Birdie has been drafted into the army, much to the chagrin of his screaming fans. But DeLeon has a plan: she pitches a send-off show for him to the television host Ed Sullivan, one in which Birdie will symbolically kiss goodbye to McAfee, a devoted groupie. Of course, nothing turns out quite as expected.

While Leigh, Van Dyke and Peterson won praise for their roles, its breakout star was undoubtedly the Swedish-American newcomer Margret. It’s been said that Sidney was so taken with the actress that he adapted the script around her, giving her more screen time. Interestingly, Margret would go on to have an affair with the real Elvis Presley.

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