If you were a fan of the '60s music show “Shindig,” especially if you were a guy, you knew who Donna Loren was. She looked like "the girl next door" and was a singer and an actress. She appeared on “Shindig,” as well as other shows, including "The Milton Berle Show," “The Monkees,” and “Batman,” and on the big screen in the “Beach Party” movies with Annette.
Loren will be appearing tonight (Jan. 25) and singing "Muscle Bustle" which was co-written by Brian Wilson, Roger Christian and Gary Usher, with Deke Dickerson at the 10th annual Guitar Geek Festival at the Anaheim Plaza Hotel in Anaheim.
Recently, she was one of the first to express their condolences after the recent death of “Shindig” host Jimmy O'Neill. She talked more about him as we began our interview. On her Facebook page, she said she had seen him at a Beatles concert film screening in Los Angeles, but the two did not speak to each other.
“The last time I saw Jimmy was at The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood a couple of years back where rare footage of the Beatles was shown, including their 'Shindig' appearance. Since Jimmy was flown to England to host the Beatles 'Shindig' show, he was invited to speak at this event. When he was introduced, I saw an elderly man amble by me holding a cane. We caught each other's eye, but Jimmy kept his focus and we never spoke a word,” she wrote.
“When I heard that he died,” she said as we began our chat, “I went on his Facebook for the first time. I really haven't had much contact with any of the cast members. And before he died, he posted something about me, and told his people to check me out. So now, I realize all those years that went by really didn't close the gap at all because he actually kept that fondness in his heart and displayed it.
“He must have felt that way all these years because he was incredibly kind.”
“Shindig” was not her first contact with show business.
“I started singing publicly when I was about 5,” she said. “And I did my first commercial when I was about 8. That was a radio commercial. When I was 10, I did 'The Mickey Mouse Club' in 1957.”
Loren was not a Mouseketeer, though. “I went for an audition and they wanted me to be a Mouseketeer,” she said. “And my dad, who was an animator at Disney, stepped in and said, 'No, she's a solo artist.' And I ended up doing one of the guest spots on 'The Mickey Mouse Club' on my 10th birthday. I was an honorary Mouseketeer,” she says with a laugh.
She made her first record when she was 9, and she says her recording career began when she was 14. She released an album, “Beach Blanket Bingo” on Capitol Records in 1965. The 10 tracks include “Cycle Set,” written by Brian Wilson collaborator Roger Christian, and “Freeway,” written by Mike Curb, later California lieutenant governor.
Her next career move was again in commercials, which turned out to be a big stepping stone.
“When I turned 16, there was a nationwide search for a spokesperson for Dr. Pepper, and I became a Dr. Pepper girl, which led to other things. And coincidentally, Annette was doing the 'Beach Party' movies and Dr. Pepper was involved in that and actually placed me as product placement. And because I could sing, they gave me a duet with Dick Dale, and then it just went on from there.
“And very soon after that, probably, six or nine months later, is when 'Shindig' came about.”
Loren confirmed that on “Shindig,” all the singing was live. “The background music was pre-recorded, and the groups, for instance, if the Stones came on, they would go into the studio and pre-record their own tracks, and then sing live to them.”
“Shindig” was “the highlight of my life,” she says. “First of the sound was so incredible. It was very true to form. It was so sensational. We all loved performing on that stage because of the trueness of the sound. And then, of course, I knew a lot of the musicians because I'd worked in West Hollywood for a publishing company. Glen Campbell was one of the artists that I met when I was 14. James Burton, who was part of the band, I met when I was 8 years old. So I was pretty familiar with a lot of the musicians who were there.”
Loren also went into acting. She did four “Beach Party” movies: “Muscle Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach Party,” “Beach Blanket Bingo,” “Pajama Party” and “Sgt. Deadhead.” She says in the last one, the least known of the series, which also featured Frankie Avalon, Deborah Walley, Fred Clark, Cesar Romero and Gale Gordon, “they veered off and went a little military. And I don't think it was very successful for them.”
(In part 2, Loren talks about life after "Shindig," appearing on "Batman" and "The Monkees," and her friendship with Davy Jones.
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