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Gidget (film)

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1959 theatrical poster
Directed byPaul Wendkos
Screenplay byGabrielle Upton
Based onGidget
1957 novel
by Frederick Kohner
Produced byLewis J. Rachmil
StarringSandra Dee
Cliff Robertson
James Darren
Arthur O'Connell
The Four Preps
CinematographyBurnett Guffey
Edited byWilliam A. Lyon
Music byArthur Morton
Color processColumbiaColor
Columbia Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • March 1959 (1959-03)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.5 million (est. US /Canada rentals)[1][2]

Gidget is a 1959 American CinemaScope comedy film directed by directed by Paul Wendkos and starring [3][4] Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson, James Darren, Arthur O'Connell, and the Four Preps.

The film is about a teenager's initiation into the California surf culture and her romance with a young surfer.

The film was the first of many screen appearances by the character Gidget, created by Hollywood writer Frederick Kohner (based on his daughter Kathy). The screenplay was written by Gillian Houghton, who was then head writer of the soap opera The Secret Storm, using the pen name Gabrielle Upton. This would be Upton's sole contribution to the Gidget canon. The story was based on Kohner's 1957 novel Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas.

The film, which received one award nomination, not only inspired various sequel films, a television series, and television films, but is also considered the beginning of the entire "beach party film" genre. Gidget is credited by numerous sources (Stoked! A History of Surf Culture by Drew Kampion; The Encyclopedia of Surfing by Matt Warshaw; and Riding Giants, a documentary film by Stacy Peralta—to name just three) as the single biggest factor in the mainstreaming of surfing culture in the United States.[5][6]


Francine Lawrence is about to turn 17 and is on her summer break between her junior and senior years of high school. She resists the pressure to go "man-hunting" with her girlfriends and laments the days when the girls had fun together without boys. Francine also rejects her parents wishing to fix her up on a date with the son of a friend of the family, Jeffrey Matthews.

On a jaunt to the beach with her well developed girlfriends, flat-chested tomboy Francine meets surfer Moondoggie. She quickly becomes infatuated with him, but he shows no romantic interest; at any rate, Francine is more attracted to surfing than man-hunting.

At home, Francine importunes her parents for $25 for a used surfboard. Russ and Dorothy Lawrence grant their daughter's request as an early birthday present and the excited youngster returns to the beach to surf. The gang dubs their female associate "Gidget", a combination of "girl" and "midget".

Gidget associates with an all-male surfer gang led by the worldly beach bum, The Big Kahuna. Kahuna is a Korean War Air Force veteran twice the age of Gidget who is fed up with all the rules he had to live by when he flew combat missions, and dropped out of normal society. He travels the hemisphere surfing with his pet bird. Moondoggie admires Kahuna and wants to emulate him by joining Kahuna in working his way on a freighter to go surfing in Peru at summer's end, instead of going to university as his self-made father plans. Kahuna and Gidget enjoy each other's company, with Gidget questioning how he can survive an aimless and lonely existence without a job. She questions whether if Kahuna knew then what he knew now would he still make the same lifestyle choice after leaving the Air Force. Kahuna later reflects on Gidget's words after the death of his only friend, the pet bird.

Hoping to make Moondoggie jealous, Gidget hires one of the other surfers in the gang to be her date to a luau party on the beach. Her plan backfires when the surfer she hired pawns the job off on none other than Moondoggie, unaware that he was the one Gidget wanted to make jealous. Gidget lies and tells Moondoggie that it is Kahuna that she wants to make jealous, and they have a romantic evening at the luau. Eventually, Moondoggie says something that upsets Gidget and, as she flees the luau, she runs into Kahuna and agrees to take him to a nearby beach house. Alone with Kahuna, Gidget tries to make Kahuna take her virginity. Amused, Kahuna attempts to call Gidget's bluff by pretending to take her up on her offer, but finds himself falling under her spell. Realizing what he was about to do and angry at the situation he's been put in, Kahuna throws her out of the beach house just as Moondoggie arrives. Gidget is mortified and escapes out of the back of the beach house as Moondoggie confronts Kahuna. The cops are called to break up the fight between Kahuna and Moondoggie and, after leaving the beach house, they find Gidget stranded with a flat tire and without her driver's license. They take her in to the police station. Gidget's father, having heard about the incident, decides to take over control of her social life, and orders her not to see the surfer gang again. Gidget feels devastated at her failure, at which point her mother points out the needlepoint sampler from her grandmother, on her own bedroom wall. She rereads it: "To Be A Real Woman / Is To Bring Out The / Best In A Man".

In the end, her father arranges a date for Gidget with Jeffrey Matthews that she grudgingly accepts. To her surprise, Matthews turns out to be Moondoggie. The two return to the beach to find Kahuna tearing down his beach shack and find out that he has taken a job as an airline pilot. Moondoggie and Gidget realize how they feel about each other and, as an act of romantic devotion, Moondoggie asks Gidget to wear his class pin. Kahuna cheerfully warns Moondoggie that Gidget is quite a woman.


Cast notes:


Drive-in advertisement from 1959

The film was shot in just 26 days during June–July 1958 at Leo Carrillo State Park and Columbia Pictures Studios. Sandra Dee originally was going to film the sequel Gidget Goes Hawaiian but didn't.[9] Rose Marie Reid designed all of the women's swimsuits in the film.[10]


On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 55% of 11 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.8/10.[11]

Contemporary domestic reviews[edit]

Howard Thompson wrote in the New York Times of April 23, 1959, "[The film] is enough to make anybody leave one of the neighborhood theatres, where it opened yesterday, and light out for Long Island Sound. Pictorially, this mild little Columbia frolic, about a teen-age girl with boy trouble, seems an ideal way to usher in the beach season." He praised performers Dee, Robertson, and La Roche.[12] A self-proclaimed "Screen Scout" for the San Francisco Examiner wrote that "the studio should have released it for the birds. Even Sandra Dee, cute as she is, couldn't save this one."[13] Margaret Harford of the Los Angeles Mirror wrote that "Gabrielle Upton's screenplay forestalls censorship troubles. In her well-written script, overheated romance boils down to a wholesome and virtuous little frolic on the beach. And a crew of attractive young performers keeps things lively with seldom a dull moment."[14] Harold Whitehead of the Montreal Gazette said that "this is a pretty aimless little item about surf-board acrobats and their peculiar views on life, but it is saved from complete lack of point by a charming performance from Sandra Dee, a pert little blonde teen-ager who is making a name for herself in the movies these days."[15] A critic using the G.H.A. in the Montreal Star called it "a pleasant little comedy-romance [...] in which the teenagers are depicted as healthy and attractive young people— none of them are suffering from frustration or neurosis, none of them are juvenile delinquents. and none of them an psychopathic cases."[16] A critic for the New York Daily News remarked that "adolescense is so seldom lensed without distortion that "Gidget" is a welcome sight for eyes sorely tired of the delinquency angle. Treated with neither acid nor saccharine, the film achieves a reasonably good facsimile of the aging teens. Even better, perhaps, is the 'flair for comedy in both dialogue and situation."[17] Marjory Adams of The Boston Globe remarked called the film "sparking and very youthful entertainment, designed to appeal to those under 25, but the intelligence of the adult theatregoer won't be insulted."[18] Myles Standish opened his review in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by writing:

HEY, GANG! Just saw the snappiest teen-age picture! Sandra Dee, who’s really a baby though she’s getting a makeup as hardboiled as an old silent vamp, goes to Malibu Beach—that’s in Hawaii—on her vacation and mixes up with some icky boys who have nothing to do but show their muscles, suntan, ride surfboards, and make lazy passes at Sandra, which is all she rates. It’s called “Gidget,” and is at the Fox.[19]

Helen Bower of the Detroit Free Press called the film "summer sea-sand-and-sun fun" and noted that "older people can enjoy watching the bright, happy young ones idling away the hours on the Pacific ocean beach at Mali-bu, where much of the movie is set. They'll see some quite exciting surfboard riding, too, in the sport imported from our 50th state."[20] Mildred Martin of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that "the film is spiked with a song or two, spends endless Eastman Colored CinemaScope footage on "riding the curl" and other aspects of surfboarding and fairly crawls with energetic, carefree youth in all types of bathing costumes."[21] R.H. Gardner of The Baltimore Sun wrote that "it would be ironic if in the rubble of our present civilization, future generations unearthed a print of "Gidget," for, after seeing it, they'd never understand the kind of people we were. The film, now at the Stanley, is in my experience unique. Its characters—answering to the names of Moondoggie, Kahoona, Lover Boy, B. L., Hot Shot, Waikiki, Lord Byron, etc.—look like human beings instead of shaggy dogs, cartoon creations or science-fiction monsters, but their behavior brands them as products of a culture with which I am totally unfamiliar."[22] Kaspar Monahan of The Pittsburgh Press wrote that "although Gidget was obviously designed to appeal to the younger set, there's no law against an oldster viewing it and even enjoying it. In fact, I found the new arrival at the Harris a most refreshing and original slant on the troubles and problems besetting a young maiden on the threshold of womanhood."[23] Leonard Mendlowitz of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph wrote that "there are no weighty problems or significant messages in this light and bright musical, might well have been called 'How Frannie Got her Fraternity Pin.'"[24]

Contemporary international reviews[edit]

The film received generally negative reviews in other continents. Campbell Dixon stated, in The Daily Telegraph that Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's Journey Into Autumn, "which will corrupt nobody's morals, has an 'X' certificate. Gidget, a moronic story for teenagers about a girl suffering from sex in the head, is 'U', presumably because she is only 16 and, if she does succeed in getting herself seduced after long and patient effort, it will be all in girlish fun. Am I alone in finding these values a little odd?"[25] John Waterman of the Evening Standard described Sandra Dee as "acting valiantly and with a background of brilliantly photographed surf-riding."[26] Margaret Winxman of the Daily Herald said that "when it comes to chilling the spine, you can keep your electro-plated invaders from outer space, mangled marrows from the interior of the earth and finned things from the bottom of the sea. For me the most terrifying Monster of the lot is the all-American teenager—at least, as currently portrayed in Gidget. It isn't the noise they make—which is deafening. It isn't the lingo, they speak-which is untranslatable: It isn't even the capers they cut—which are maddening. It's their devilish disregard for anybody else's feelings, comfort or dignity which is so appalling. (Parents, of course, being strictly from 'squaresville,' are quite expendable.) And these, mark you. are supposed to be nice teenagers."[27] Dick Richards of the Daily Mirror called the film "a frail little piece [that] will make anybody over the age of twenty-one feel very old and jaded."[28] An unnamed critic for Australia's Sun-Herald newspaper called it an "unevenly coloured but passably pleasant and quite innocuous film."[29] Colin Bennett of The Age called it "a picture that might be roughly described as a tusical, or teen-agers' musical." He added:

Columbia's wardrobe department supplies Sandra Dee, the squeaking blonde in the title role, with 19 cute changes of bathing suit. Columbia's orchestra supplies three hit songs, all of which sounded awful to me. And Gidget's Mom supplies the sentiment: Gidget will know when true love comes along because she'll hear "little bells ringing in her heart." By the end of summer, the bells have pealed and Gidget is wearing her fraternity pin which should keep her happy until next year, when, no doubt, we will be subjected to The Return of Gidget.[30]

Retrospective reviews[edit]

Craig Butler in Allmovie notes, "Although the very title prompts snorts of derision from many, Gidget is actually not a bad little teenaged flick from the '50s. Great art it definitely isn't, but as frivolous, lighthearted entertainment, it more than fits the bill. Those who know it only by reputation will probably be surprised to find that it does attempt to deal with the problems of life as seen by a teenager—and that, while some of those attempts are silly, many of them come off quite well. It also paints a very convincing picture of the beach-bum lifestyle, much more so than the Frankie AvalonAnnette Funicello beach party movies."[31]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film received a 1960 Golden Laurel Award nomination for Top Female Comedy Performance for actress Sandra Dee.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tom Lisanti, Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969, McFarland 2005, 29
  2. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. ^ Variety film review; March 18, 1959, page 6.
  4. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; March 21, 1959, page 46.
  5. ^ "A Generation of Gidgets" Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, by Jeff Spurrier, The Atlantic Monthly, April 2002 Retrieved 4 August 2009.
  6. ^ "Surfer Girl, Forever" by Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2006. Retrieved 4 August 2009.
  7. ^ "Gidget: It's the summer of 69". 19 March 2010. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  8. ^ "Gidget (1959) - Notes - TCM.com". Retrieved 15 October 2022.
  9. ^ "Sandra Dee Out West: Page 2". Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  10. ^ Layton, Roger (28 August 2015). "Iconic swimsuit designer the subject of new exhibition at BYU Library". Herald Media. Retrieved 15 October 2022. In 1959, Sandra Dee and the other female co-stars of the film "Gidget" all wore Reid's suits.
  11. ^ "Gidget". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 12, 2023. Edit this at Wikidata
  12. ^ Thompson, Howard (1959-04-23). "Screen: Sun and Surf; 'Gidget,' the Story of a Teen-Age Girl, Opens". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 1 October 2008.
  13. ^ Scout, Screen (March 21, 1959). "Holiday Film Fare in Town". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  14. ^ Harford, Margaret (March 26, 1959). "'Gidget' Comedy Fun". Los Angeles Mirror. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  15. ^ Whitehead, Harold (July 25, 1959). "The Screen: Story of Philadelphia folk absorbing entertainment at Palace". The Gazette. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  16. ^ "Pleasant Little Film About Youth". Montreal Star. July 23, 1959. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  17. ^ "Teeners Get A Break Here". New York Daily News. April 16, 1959. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  18. ^ Adams, Marjory (April 15, 1959). "Sandra Dee Star of "Gidget" At Pilgrim and The Fenway". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  19. ^ Standish, Myles (April 17, 1959). "The New Films". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  20. ^ Bower, Helen (March 26, 1959). "There's Sea, Sand, Sun and Fun in This One, Kids". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  21. ^ Martin, Mildred (April 13, 1959). "Sandra Dee Costars With James Darren". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  22. ^ Gardner, R.H. (May 20, 1959). "A Gidget—Girl "Gidget"". The Sun. Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  23. ^ Monahan, Kaspar (April 13, 1959). "Pert Sandra Dee Has Name Role In Lively 'Gidget'". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  24. ^ Mendlowitz, Leonard (April 13, 1959). "'Gidget,' a Bright Musical, Created for the Teenage Set". Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  25. ^ Dixon, Campbell (July 11, 1959). "A Tale of Two Heroes". The Daily Telegraph. London, England, United Kingdom. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  26. ^ Waterman, John (July 9, 1959). "Hollywood has another stab at itself". Evening Standard. London, England, United Kingdom. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  27. ^ Hinxman, Margaret (July 10, 1959). "THE WORST SCREEN MONSTER OF ALL". Daily Herald. London, England, United Kingdom. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  28. ^ Richards, Dick (July 10, 1959). "An orgy of spectacle". Daily Mirror. London, England, United Kingdom. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  29. ^ "'Gidget'". The Sun-Herald. Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. November 15, 1959. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  30. ^ Bennett, Colin (January 23, 1960). "Waiting for the Silly Season to End". The Age. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Retrieved November 12, 2023.
  31. ^ Allmovie review Retrieved 15 October 2022.

External links[edit]