“Lunch Wagon”: This 1981 sexploitation romp featured Playboy Playmates and Missing Persons

By on February 22, 2017

From time to time, we here at Night Flight HQ like to remind ourselves just how different the 1980s were, like that time when L.A. mayor Tom Bradley proclaimed September 11, 1981, as “Lunch Wagon Day” as a way to help celebrate and promote the opening of the low-budget and occasionally titillating little sexploitation romp called Lunch Wagon.

The boner comedy is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of those being that it starred a couple of former Playboy Playmates (who appear in several NSFW T&A-ish scenes), and also featured an early onscreen appearance by Missing Persons, who were still calling themselves U.S. Drag at the time.

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These days, licensed mobile food trucks — sometimes they’re still called taco trucks, or loncheras — are subjected to heavy regulation and lots of oversight (i.e. hassles) by certain overzealous L.A. city officials.

Not only that, but there’s apparently also some kind of national issue about taco trucks, after they became part of the 2016 presidential election campaign last September when Marco Gutierrez, the founder of “Latinos for Trump,” told an MSNBC show host that if America did not adopt tighter immigration policies, it would lead to taco trucks on every corner,” a comment that quickly led to a lot of humorous blowback for a few weeks — and by the way, most of us, at least here in Los Angeles, think having taco trucks on every corner would be frickin’ awesome.

You can imagine, then, our surprise to learn that the opening day ceremonies for Lunch Wagon — which would end up being the largest grossing independent movie in 1981 — was planned ahead of time to feature a parade of some eighty of these so-called “lunch wagons” down one lane of Hollywood Boulevard, taking place during broad daylight (the marketing campaign had said there would be 200 lunch wagons, however).

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Screenwriter Terrie Frankel — credited as a co-writer of Lunch Wagon along with Marshall Harvey and Leon Phillips — even videotaped the festivities as they were taking place, which you can see in this “lost tape” that she uploaded to Youtube a few years back.

Frankel’s video shows how film producer Mark Borde went all out to promote the movie, which was screening at the Hollywood Pacific Theater, located at 6433 Hollywood Boulevard.

On the marquee behind her, you can see that Lunch Wagon was billed along with Private Lessons (one of the very first of the 80’s teen exploitation comedies) and John Waters’ Polyester.

Filmed in Los Angeles between late May through July 1980, this classic late night cable TV favorite of ours follows the adventures of three scantily-clad chicks — Pamela Jean Bryant as feisty “Marcy”; Rosanne Katon as sassy “Shannon”; Candy Moore as the brash “Diedre” — who start up a mobile “lunch wagon” service in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, which of course ends up drawing lots of horny dudes to their truck.

The girls — wearing mostly tight t-shirts and hot pants, although they’re also occasionally topless too — end up falling in love with construction guys and rock musicians.

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Their lunch wagon’s popularity begins to annoy a competing food truck, owned by a would-be gangster (Rick Podell as “Mr. Schmeckler”) and his moll (Louisa Moritz as “Sunshine”), who starts a war with the girls after their business begins to interfer with his illegal activity.

Meanwhile, a couple of bumbling ex-convict diamond thieves from Detroit, Michigan (Chuck McCann as a cranky foul-mouthed dude called “The Turtle” and Vic Dunlop as his slob sidekick “Ralph”) cause a little slapstick fun as they drive through the San Fernando Valley and plan their next robbery.

When the hoods ditch a $50,000 diamond in the girls’ mustard, the lunch wagon is kidnapped and the race to rescue is on.

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Finally, there’s also that struggling pop band called Teddy and the Ruff Riders (U.S. Drag, aka Missing Persons) compete for the top prize in a rock-off talent contest (a couple of the guys in the band invite the girls to their show at the Topanga Corral).

Here’s a trailer for the film with Portugese subtitles:

Lunch Wagon‘s cast is notable mainly for featuring not one but two Playboy centerfolds.

The vivacious Indiana-born blonde Pamela Jean Bryant — who first appeared in Playboy‘s “Girls of the Big Ten” pictorial in 1977 before becoming Miss April 1978 — ended up having a somewhat brief but memorable movie career, appearing in sexy roles in movies like H.O.T.S. (1979), the sleazy slasher flick Don’t Answer the Phone (1980), Private Lessons (1981), Lovely But Deadly (1981) and she went fully-frontally nude in 1994’s Trapped.

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She also steamed up the small screen when she guest-starred on numerous TV shows like “Fantasy Island,” “Love Boat,” and “The Dukes of Hazzard,” to name just a few. She died in 2010.

Sexy black New York-born actress Rosanne Katon — who had a more substantive acting career, even before she became Playboy‘s Miss September 1978) — began acting at age thirteen, first appearing in TV commercials before making her theatrical debut in Jack Hill’s The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974).

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She also appeared in a number of other b-movies, namely She Devils in Chains (1976), Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy (1976), The Muthers (1976), and she had smaller roles in Zapped! (1982) and Bachelor Party (1984).

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Like Pamela Jean, she also did a lot of TV work too, appearing on “St. Elsewhere,” “Full House,” and the “Sanford & Son”-spinoff “Grady,” among her many, many television appearances.

Katon has more recently worked as a stand-up comedian, and she’s also worked in charitable endeavors and as a political activist, even appearing on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect,” in 2001.

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The third girl in Lunch Wagon was longtime actress and model Candy Moore, who is somewhat miscast as a female bodybuilder (considering her petite size) who likes to take charge in the sack, particularly with small nerdy dudes who find their way between the sheets.

Moore had much more acting experience than the other two, going all the way back to the 1950s, appearing on episodes of “Rawhide” and “Leave it to Beaver,” before being cast, in 1962, as Lucille Ball’s daughter, Chris Carmichael, on the CBS comedy “The Lucy Show” (she was a regular on the series through the end of the 1964-’65 season).

She also appeared a number of times on ABC’s “The Donna Reed Show,” as Paul Peterson’s character’s girlfriend.

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Moore also appeared in movies, like Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980) and lots of others, but we also would like to point out that she was the pin-up model depicted in the drawing (by Alberto Vargas) on the cover of the Cars’ 1979 album, Candy-O (yes, she’s the real “Candy-O”).

At the time, Moore was dating Cars drummer David Robinson, who was the band’s artistic director and also a collector of pin-ups.

He persuaded the 83-year old Vargas (whose niece was a fan of the band’s first album) to come out of retirement to paint Moore, who is seen sprawled across the hood of a Ferrari, based on a photo shoot art-directed by Robinson at a Ferrari dealership.

Moore briefly dated Robinson afterwards.

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The lovely Louisa Moritz — who usually plays a bubble-headed blonde bombshell or bimbo or a gangster moll (like she does here) — was a veteran of tons of movies (The Last American Virgin, Death Race 2000) and she was Rose in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and TV shows (“Love American Style,” and as the Mail Girl on the shortlived “The Joe Namath Show”).

The supporting cast also features brothers Nels Van Patten (“Scotty”) and James Van Patten (of Roller Boogie fame, as the likable hunk “Biff”), and Michael Tucci (as the nerdy “Arnie”).

Rose Marie also makes an appearance in the film (as “Mrs. Schmeckler”):

At the time they made their appearance in Lunch Wagon, Missing Persons were calling themselves U.S. Drag (after the title of one of their first songs), prior to the release of their first album.

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Here Dale Bozzio — who is credited onscreen with an acting credit in the role of “Teddy” — and the rest of her band (Terry Bozzio, Warren Cuccurullo, Patrick O’Hearn) are supposed to be a band called Teddy and the Ruff Riders, but they perform both “Mental Hopscotch,” and “I Like Boys.”

The soundtrack also features songs by Fred Mollin (“Lunch Wagon”); the Portables (“Affirmative Action,” “California Kids”); Joe Allen and the Shapes (“Shimmy Shimmy,” “Low Life”); Bobby Paine and Larson Paine (“Changin’ Love,” “Real Blue,” “Beach Pop,” “No Angel,” “T.J. Shuffle,” “Road to Blues”); and jazz giant Cal Tjader (“Black Orchid,” “Blues From Havana”).

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Lunch Wagon‘s director was Ernest “Ernie” Pintoff, an Academy Award-winning animator and a film and television director/producer, who is probably best known for winning an Best Short Subject (Cartoon) Oscar for The Critic, the 1963 animated satire on modern art written and narrated by Mel Brooks.

Pintoff — who had also earned an Oscar nomination for his animated short The Violinist, which was narrated by Carl Reiner — directed lots of episodic TV series (including “Hawaii Five-O,” and“The Six Million Dollar Man”), and a few documentaries (This Is Marshall McLuhan, This Is Sholem Aleichem).

We like to also remember him for directing a couple of low-budget features: Who Killed Mary What’s ‘Er Name? and, our personal fave, Dynamite Chicken, which featured a collection of songs, skits, commercial parodies and old movie clips with appearances by Richard Pryor, John Lennon, Andy Warhol and other celebrities.

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Pintoff also taught directing at the School of Visual Arts, American Film Institute, California Institute of the Arts and UCLA, received the International Animated Film Society’s Winsor McCay Award for distinguished lifetime contributions to the art of animation in 1998.

He penned a bunch of books, too, including a memoir, Bolt From the Blue; a novel, Zachary; and animation textbooks. He died in 2002.

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The movie posters Lunch Wagon — which was also released as Lunch Wagon Girls, Perritos Calientes (Hot Dogs), Cachorros Quentes… com Mostarda (Hot Dogs… with Mustard), and in some European countries it was simply titled Playboy Girlsfeatured jokey taglines (examples:”Where the Tastiest Things Aren’t on the Menu,” and “Finally, a movie you can sink your teeth into”).

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Lunch Wagon was originally intended to come out in 1980 (some sources still list the movie as coming out that year), but didn’t appear in theaters until September 1981.

It was released on VHS tape (by Media Home Entertainment) in 1982, but as far as we can tell, Lunch Wagon has never been officially released on DVD.

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Critics seemed to overall give the movie mostly positive notes — Leonard Maltin called Lunch Wagon an “above average drive-in comedy,” singling out Pintoff’s “spirited direction” — but our favorite overall comment about the movie can be found on this Youtube page, by Youtuber fredfukkinbear kikkinnigass who said this about Pamela Jean Bryant’s “tight silver discojeans”:

The pants are called “Spandex” and they were not only worn in the Disco era, the 80’s Big Hair Metal bands wore them as well. I actually had a pair of silver ones myself, and being a dude, it takes some balls to wear them with confidence. My friends laughed at me, but they stopped when we got to the clubs and saw the attention from all the girls I was getting. I had more women grab, pinch and rub my ass on that night than I had my entire life to that point. Man the 80’s were GREAT!!!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.