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All The Gidgets! Sandra Dee, Sally Field, And Five Others

Entertainment | September 9, 2018

Gidgets you might remember -- or not: Sandra Dee (1959), Sally Field (1965-66), and Monie Ellis (1972). Sources: IMDB, IMDB, ABC via Getty Images

When you think of Gidget, you probably come up with the TV Gidget Sally Field, and perhaps Sandra Dee, who played her in the first Gidget movie. But there were actually seven Gidgets in all. Actresses Deborah Walley, Cindy Carol, Karen Valentine, Monie Ellis and Caryn Richman also played versions of the famous surfer girl who just wanted to surf with the boys.

There was also a real-life Gidget, the daughter of the author who wrote the book that inspired all this Gidget mania. The real-life Gidget also inspired many young girls to get out there and surf.

The famous boyfriend, “Moondoggie,” was played by James Darren in all three movies and then played by some other actors in the series.

The Real-Life Pre-Gidget

Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman in 1956. Source: Ventura County Star, vcstar.com

It all started with this novel by Frederick Kohner. He planted the seed that started the growth of Gidget. Frederick Kohner wrote the novel based on his own daughter, Kathy. It turns out that he was a Jewish screenwriter who worked in the German film business. After the Nazis started removing the Jewish credits from movies, he decided to take his family and move to Hollywood. He and his wife had two daughters and they lived by the beach. As he watched his two daughters grow up around the beach, he took notice of the way they were becoming more Americanized by the “surf culture.” 

Because his daughter, Kathy, was trying so hard to be like one of the boys when it came to surfing, he was empathetic towards her and tried to support her in it. He saw her struggles and wanted to help her so he became more knowledgeable in those areas in order to help her. This became his inspiration for writing the different storylines that you see in the show and the movies. Gidget was her nickname.

The First Gidget: Sandra Dee (1959)

The beautiful and delightful Sandra Dee was the beginning of the many Gidgets. Her personality, along with her youthfulness, made Sandra Dee the perfect choice to play the part. She was one of the most popular Gidgets and starred in that role in 1959 in the very first movie that was made from the novel.  James Darren portrayed her boyfriend, “Moondoggie.”

Sandra Dee Started The Gidget Phenomenon

Though Frederick Kohner's novel based on his daughter was a success, it was the portrayal of Gidget on screen that made the character a phenomenon. Thanks to Sandra Dee and those who followed, Kathy Kohner became an inspiring figure for girls who wanted to surf. When Surfer magazine listed its picks for most influential people of the 20th century, Kohner came in at #7, with a lot of help from Sandra Dee and Gidget #4. But we must not forget Gidgets #2 and 3...

Gidget #2: Deborah Walley (1961)

Deborah Walley in 'Gidget Goes Hawaiian' (1963). Source: IMDB

Deborah Walley's Gidget did indeed go to Hawaii in Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), and then she went boy-crazy all over the place.

Gidget #3: Cindy Carol (1963)

Cindy Carol in 'Gidget Goes To Rome' (1963). Source: IMDB

Cindy Carol played Gidget in the 1963 film Gidget Goes To Rome. In the movie, Gidget, Moondoggie, and four friends go to Rome, Italy, with a wacky chaperone. It's all fun and games until the boys get a little too interested in the comely Italian tour guide Daniela.

Gidget #4: Sally Field (1965-66)

Sally Field as Gidget. Source: Pinterest

Gidget, the television series, came out with Sally Field as Gidget in 1965. Sally Field plays a very delightful version of Gidget and who always seemed to find herself in a pickle, and had to run to her father for advice. Of course, he always gave his daughter wise counsel, trying to lead her in the right direction.  The show was funny, innocent and heartwarming.

Gidgets #5 and #6: Karen Valentine (1969) And Monie Ellis (1972)

In 1969, the movie Gidget Grows Up came out which was played by the lovely Karen Valentine and came from the novel Gidget Goes New York. It was like a sequel to the show. Then, again, in 1972, another movie came out called Gidget Gets Married where she marries her long-time boyfriend, Moondoggie. In this movie, actress Monie Ellis played Gidget. 

Gidget #7: Caryn Richman (1985-88)

Actress Caryn Richman appeared in the TV movie Gidget’s Summer Reunion in 1985, playing a grown-up version of Gidget who is keeping her eye on her Gidget-like niece. A follow-up series, The New Gidget, starring Richman, ran for 44 episodes, from 1986-1988. Are you keeping up? So many Gidgets -- will the real Gidget please stand up? And poor Moondoggie – with so many versions of Gidget, does he even know which one he married? Or maybe he enjoyed all the different personalities of Gidget.

Looking back at the many faces of Gidget, the best, by far and the most popular would be the Gidget in the television series that was portrayed by Sally Field. It was quite entertaining as she had only her father to help her with all her emotional ups and downs. Her father had his work cut out for him as he constantly had to rescue her from herself despite him trying to give her wise counsel throughout her many escapades. 

Tags: 1959 | Gidget | Movies In The 1950s | Sally Field | Sandra Dee | Surfing | The 1950s

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Terry Claypoole

Writer

Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.