Though not classified as one of Hollywood’s most memorable biopics, Gidget (1959), which rode ashore into theaters 59 years ago this week, was indeed adapted from a cheeky but evocative truth-based tome, written by its title character’s dad, Austrian-born screenwriter Frederick “Fritz” Kohner, and, in the lingo of its Trailer, “brought to the screen from the bestseller that proves a teenager can be delightfully juvenile without being delinquent.” The charming Cinemascope comedy romance not only provided career-boosting roles for rising stars Sandra Dee (in the title role), James Darren and Cliff Robertson but also served to open up an appealing sun-splashed window to the freestyle Southern California surfing culture, which experienced a sizable bump after the 1957 book and subsequent movie made their respective marks, and made the case for Kathy Kohner, the teenager whose experiences and diary entries formed the inspiration for her dad’s popular book, to be dubbed “the most famous surfer of all time,” per this cheeky Surfer.com blog entry: https://www.surfer.com/features/gidget-history-surfing/.
While the modestly budgeted film, adapted for the screen by then-The Secret Storm head writer Gabrielle Upton, directed by the versatile Paul Wendkos (The Burglar, Angel Baby) and shot by the great Burnett Guffey (the two-time Oscar® winner already familiar to Twilight Time aficionados via All the King’s Men [available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/26736/ALL-THE-KINGS-MEN-1949/], Edge of Eternity, Kid Galahad (1962) and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), is to a certain extent standard, “wholesome” youth-market fare, it does offer in its eponymous heroine a unique portrait of a lively but thoughtful tomboy curious about sex but wanting true romance on her own terms to the extent that her independent determination brings out the better sides of her two potential suitors, Moondoggie (Darren) and Kahoona (Robertson), and unltimately gets them to shake off their testosterone-fueled personas as love-’em-and-leave-’em lotharios. Though the faces that come to mind at the mention of Gidget are those of Dee or the TV series version’s Sally Field, the real-life 77-year-old Kathy Kohner Zuckerman is a down-to-earth eminence who continues to draw strength and satisfaction from her Malibu roots. You can meet her in this celebratory video here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVyLeCmlCXA – and catch up with how she’s doing via this Tablet conversation from last August here: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/242373/gidget-tells-all. Fill yourself in on the real Gidget and ride the waves of nutty nostalgia with TT’s hi-def Blu-ray, where you can hang ten with this fun flick in its full 1080p widescreen glory.