AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Director: Paul Wendkos (Dir)
Release Date:   Apr 1959
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 22 Apr 1959
Production Date:   23 Jun--18 Jul 1958
Duration (in mins):   94-95
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Cast:   Sandra Dee (Francie Lawrence, also known as "Gidget")  
    James Darren (Moondoggie, also known as Jeffrey Mathews)  
    Cliff Robertson (Kahoona, also known as Burt Vail)  
    Arthur O'Connell (Russell Lawrence)  
    The Four Preps (Themselves)  
    Mary LaRoche (Dorothy Lawrence)  
    Joby Baker (Stinky)  
    Tom Laughlin (Lover Boy)  
    Sue George (B. L.)  
    Robert Ellis (Hot Shot)  
    Jo Morrow (Mary Lou)  
    Yvonne Craig (Nan)  
    Patti Kane (Patty)  
    Doug McClure (Waikiki)  
    Burt Metcalfe (Lord Byron)  
    Richard Newton (Policeman)  
    Ed Hinton (Policeman)  
    Shari Layne (Joanne)  
    Edward McNally (Desk sergeant)  
    Ruthie Robinson (Girl)  
    Cheerio Meredith    

Summary: Francie Lawrence, a tomboy nearing her seventeenth birthday, is chided by her girl friends for her lack of interest in the opposite sex. To insure that Francie does not become a “social outcast,” her friends take her to the beach on a “manhunt.” When Francie decides she would rather go swimming than flirt with the surfers, however, her friends leave in disgust. While paddling out to sea, Francie becomes caught in a bed of kelp, prompting Moondoggie, one of the surfers, to free her and give her a ride back to shore on his surfboard. Thrilled by the sensation of riding a wave, she decides to become a surfer, even though the boys deride the diminutive Francie as a “gidget,” a girl midget. At home, Francie begs her doting father Russell for $21.50 to buy a used surfboard, and Russell gives her the money as an early birthday present. Francie hurries back to the beach to buy her board and there meets Kahoona, an unemployed surf bum idolized by all the younger surfers. When Francie questions Kahoona’s lack of ambition, he explains that after flying fighter planes during the Korean War, he became disenchanted by the rules and regulations of society and opted for the life of a surf bum. Later, Moondoggie tells Kahoona that he wants to follow him in his search for the endless wave rather than return to college, the path favored by his father, a successful businessman. That night, Francie asks her mother if there is something wrong with her because she is not interested in dating, prompting her mother to assure Francie that “one day the magic will strike.” At the beach the next day, Kahoona dubs Francie their mascot. For her initiation right, the surfers order her to dive repeatedly into the kelp bed. When she becomes twisted in the kelp and fails to surface, Moondoggie rescues her once again. Woozy from the incident, Francie is confined to bed and diagnosed with tonsillitis. In a fever-induced dream, she sees Moondoggie, and upon awakening, tells her mother that she “has found the one.” Although told that she must stay in bed for two weeks, Francie uses the time to refine her surfing techniques by jumping up and down on the mattress. One month after returning to the beach, Francie becomes a full-fledged surfer when she rides a wave in with the rest of the gang. Moondoggie hugs her in congratulations, but when his girl friend appears, he loses all interest in Francie. Upon learning that a luau will be held at the beach to cap the end of summer, Francie longs to attend, even though the others think that she is too young for the wild party. To attract Moondoggie’s attention, Francie offers to pay Hot Shot, one of the surfers, to take her to the luau, explaining that she wants to make someone jealous. Hot Shot agrees on the condition that he not be required to pick her up and that Francie wins Kahoona’s permission to attend. When Francie bribes Kahoona by promising to bring him some steaks, he jovially accepts her offer, but his mood quickly changes after he enters his hut and finds that his beloved pet bird has died. Sensing Kahoona’s loneliness, Francie asks if he longs to return to the time before he became a surf bum. On the night of the luau, Francie’s father is shocked that her date is not going to pick her up and forbids her to go. Running out of the house in defiance, Francie drives to the beach café where she is to meet Hot Shot and is surprised to find Moondoggie waiting for her. Moondoggie explains that Hot Shot had a previous engagement and turned the job over to him. Upon reaching the luau, Moondoggie asks whom Francie is trying to make jealous, and she lies that it is Kahoona. At midnight, the end of Moondoggie's “shift,” Francie, upset, abruptly leaves and Kahoona asks her for a ride to the beach shack he has borrowed for the night. Although Moondoggie protests, Francie drives off with Kahoona and asks to spend the night with him. Soon after they leave, Francie’s parents come to the luau and learn that their daughter has driven off with an older man. At the beach house, Francie, pretending to be sophisticated, tries to seduce Kahoona, and he plays along with her bluff until he finds himself attracted to her and orders her to leave. As Francie runs out the back door to her car, Moondoggie arrives at the front door and punches Kahoona. Just then the police, summoned by a nosy neighbor, arrive and break up the fight. Kahoona then tells Moondoggie to return to college and warns him that he lacks the affinity for the life of a vagabond. Soon after leaving the shack, Francie’s car has a flat tire and the police pick her up for questioning. At the police station, Francie’s parents are frantic with worry when the officers bring her in. The next day at home, when Francie frets that she will never be a real woman, her mother comforts her with the homily that “a real woman brings out the best in a man.” Frustrated by his daughter’s antics, Russell insists that Francie go out on a date with Jeffrey Mathews, the son of a business colleague. When Jeffrey comes to pick her up, Francie is shocked to discover that Jeffrey Mathews is Moondoggie's real name. Moondoggie drives to the beach to take one last look before returning to college, and there they find Kahoona tearing down his hut. When Francie finds a newly issued pilot’s license with Kahoona’s photo bearing the name Burt Vail, she realizes that he has decided to return to a life of responsibility. Later, after kissing Francie, Moondoggie gives her his fraternity pin.  

Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: Paul Wendkos (Dir)
  Milton Feldman (Asst dir)
Producer: Lewis J. Rachmil (Prod)
Writer: Gabrielle Upton (Scr)
Photography: Burnett Guffey (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Ross Bellah (Art dir)
Film Editor: William A. Lyon (Film ed)
Set Decoration: William Kiernan (Set dec)
Music: Morris Stoloff (Mus supv and cond)
  Arthur Morton (Orch)
  John Williams Jr. (Orch)
Sound: John Livadary (Rec supv)
  Josh Westmoreland (Sd)
Make Up: Clay Campbell (Makeup supv)
  Helen Hunt (Hair styles)
Color Personnel: Henri Jaffa (Col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English
Series: Gidget

Songs: "Gidget," lyrics by Paul Washington, music by Fred Karger and "Cinderella," music and lyrics by Glen Larson and Bruce Belland, sung by the Four Preps, Exclusive Capitol Recording Artists; "The Next Best Thing to Love," music by Fred Karger, lyrics by Stanley Styne;
Composer: Bruce Belland
  Fred Karger
  Glen Larson
  Stanley Styne
  Paul Washington
Source Text: Based on the novel Gidget by Frederick Kohner (New York, 1957).
Authors: Frederick Kohner

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Corp. 11/3/1959 dd/mm/yyyy LP12931

Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  col: Columbia Color
  Widescreen/ratio: CinemaScope

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Teenage
  with songs
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  Surfers and surfing
Subjects (Minor): Beaches
  College students
  Family life

Note: According to an Apr 1957 HR news item, Gidget was originally to be produced by Euterpe Productions, an independent production unit headed by Joe Pasternak and Sam Katz. At that time, Frederick Kohner, the author of the novel, was to write the screenplay. As noted in studio publicity materials contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library, the character of "Gidget" was based on Kohner's teenage daughter, Kathy.
       Sandra Dee was borrowed from Universal-International to appear as Gidget. Gidget was the first starring role for Dee, who became one of the most popular teenaged actresses of the late 1950s and early 1960s. According to modern sources, Miklos Dora appeared in the film as Darren's surfing double.
       Columbia made two other films based on the character of Gidget: the 1961 production Gidget Goes Hawaiian , directed by Paul Wendkos and starring Deborah Walley in the title role, and the 1963 production Gidget Goes to Rome , also directed by Wendkos and starring Cindy Carol in the title role (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ). Although James Darren starred in both films, he did not reprise his character of "Moondoggie." Several television movies and two series were also based on the Gidget charcter. Among the best known is the ABC series Gidget , which ran from 15 Sep 1965--1 Sep 1966 and starred Sally Field as Gidget.
       According to a 17 Jun 2006 LAT article about Kathy Kohner, she remained a life-long surfer, staying active in the sport even into her mid-sixties. The article also noted, however, that for many years some surfers had resented her, feeling that the popularity of the film and television character she inspired brought too much attention to surfing, which many felt had been changed from a serious sport into a popular craze. The article continued that many surfing historians felt that popularity of Gidget was only one of several factors in the late 1950s and early 1960s that led to the larger interest in the sport. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   23 Mar 1959.   
Daily Variety   16 Mar 59   p. 3.
Film Daily   16 Mar 59   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Apr 1957.   
Hollywood Reporter   14 Apr 1958   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jul 1958.   
Hollywood Reporter   16 Mar 59   p. 3.
Los Angeles Times   17 Jun 2006   Calendar, p. 1, 22.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   21 Mar 59   p. 196.
New York Times   23 Apr 59   p. 27.
Variety   18 Mar 59   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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