59 Years Ago Today…
Gidget rode the tide into movie theaters for its theatrical opening. Based on the surfing adventures of the real Gidget, Kathy Kohner, the popular movie and the first (and still one of the best) Hollywood surf movie starred Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson, and James Darren with support from Doug McClure, Joby Baker, Yvonne Craig, and Jo Morrow.
Gidget’s story of a teenage tomboy who doesn’t fit in with her female friends and who just wants to surf with the guys is extremely entertaining. It makes a sincere effort to capture the surfer culture of the time albeit toned down for movie audiences. The film has lots of exciting surfing footage, beautiful Malibu scenery, and a wonderful cast headed by the sweet Sandra Dee as the “girl-midget” nicknamed Gidget and the perfectly cast Cliff Robertson as the manly surf bum Kahoona. James Darren as the college-bound Moondoggie trying to ape the Kahoona but deeep down just a typical suburnan kid at heart is a fine contrast.
As hoped for from the first official Hollywood surf movie there is lots of surfing action, excellently photographed, featuring some of Malibu’s real life surfers such as Mickey Dora and Johnny Fain. However, a major drawback is the main stars’ lack of athletic ability. The only hindrance about Sandra Dee is that she looks like she can barely hold a surfboard let alone surf on one. The constant filming of her and James Darren in a tank on the studio lot or in front of the blue screen pretending to be riding the waves is a detriment to this movie especially to fans reared on Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush. Unfortunately, using the blue screen would become standard practice in most surf movies to follow during the sixties.
Despite the minor flaws, Gidget exudes a wonderful Southern California fun-in-the-sun feeling, and aided by the attractive cast, remains a memorable first look at the cult of surfing and the throngs who are attracted to it. Read more about it in my book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969.