Gidget, The Original Surfer Girl!
Sandra Dee In 'Gidget' Sandra Dee surrounded by adoring men on beach in a scene from the film 'Gidget', 1959. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)
Sandra Dee captivated audiences, in the 1959 beach movie, “Gidget.” Gidget was a California girl that rode the waves long before it was acceptable for girls to surf. Surfing was thought to be a guy’s sport. The character of Gidget was adapted from Frederick Kohner’s 1950’s novel about a Southern California (So-Cal) girl named, Gidget, who hit the beach and became fascinated with surfing. Somehow, she convinced the boys to teach her how to surf and she quickly caught on.
The story of Gidget is pretty well known. The character has been portrayed in novels, films and a television series. Gidget's character has influenced many actors and musicians. She was around long before the Beach Boys ever dreamed about their hit song, “Surfer Girl”.
Dee, however, was not the only actress to portray Gidget. In 1965, the young Sally Field was cast as the main character about a precocious teenager, named Franzie; nicknamed, Gidget. Although it only aired for one season, Gidget lived on!
All of that being said, did you know that the inspiration for Gidget came to Frederick Kohner by his real-life daughter, Kathy Kohner? Yes… Gidget was a real person and she was really from California; Brentwood, to be more specific! Her father told the story of her antics and escapades in her teen years. The real Gidget’s given name was Kathy Kohner. She was nicknamed Gidget by her beach boy friends who taught her to surf because of her size; 5' nothing. They teased her mercilessly about wanting to surf and for being so tiny. Gidget was short for “girl midget.” The nickname stuck and that is how she was known from then on.
Gidget refused to be discouraged. The defiant, spunky, little-bit of a teenage girl showed those boys that she could hold her own. Before long she was surfing at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach with the best of them! Gidget was one of the first females to hang ten at the beach. She had finally won their respect! After recounting the experience to her screenwriter father, he was inspired, and the rest is history.
Gidget famously launched a beach-culture explosion in America. Following Gidget came the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies, the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, and many, many more.
The real-life Gidget eventually grew up, earned a teaching degree and got married but never lost her love of surfing. If you remember, the fictional Gidget had a groovy boyfriend named, Moondoggie. The character of Moondoggie was also based on a real person, named Bill Jenson; but that is not who she married, although they reportedly still keep in touch. She married a man named, Marvin Zuckerman, an English Professor who had never heard of her!
Gidget has been immortalized as part of California’s surfer heritage. She was a positive role model for young girls everywhere. After Gidget emerged, the sport of surfing became much more popular, especially with females. Not only did she inspire other girls to take up surfing, but the overall message was that girls can do anything they put their minds to.
Brian Gillogly, produced a documentary about, Kathy “Gidget” Kohner-Zuckerman; earning rave reviews. At the age of 76, she still enjoys being around the water and surfing; although her hardcore surfer days are over. She makes it a point to surf each year at an annual benefit for cancer research. Gidget has been recognized numerous times for her contribution to the sport of surfing but remains humble. She once said, “You know, it's overwhelming, and I'm really touched. All I did was surf a little and tell my story”.
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