Due to an accident while swimming in the sea, Francis meets the surfer Moondoggy. She's fascinated of his sport and starts to hang out with his clique. Although they make fun of her at first, they teach her to surf. Soon she's accepted and given the nickname "Gidget". But it's hard work to become more than a friend to Moondoggy.
Sandra Dee ... Gidget (Frances Lawrence)
James Darren ... Moondoggie (Jeffrey Matthews)
Cliff Robertson ... The Big Kahuna
Arthur O'Connell ... Russell Lawrence
Bruce Belland ... Lead Singer (as The Four Preps)
Glen A. Larson ... Group Member (as The Four Preps)
Don Clarke ... Group Member (as The Four Preps)
Ed Cobb ... Group Member (as The Four Preps)
Mary LaRoche ... Mrs. Dorothy Lawrence
Joby Baker ... Stinky
Tom Laughlin ... Lover Boy
Sue George ... Betty Louise aka 'B. L.'
Robert Ellis ... Hot Shot
Jo Morrow ... Mary Lou
Sandra Dee is probably best remembered as the energetic heroine of this surf-and-sand romance, a cute little film which unfortunately set the precedent for the moronic "Beach Blanket Bingo" musicals of the early 60's, most of which featured Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
In contrast to the those lame exercises in film making, "Gidget" is a modestly scaled and rather sincere little movie about a teenage girl coming to grips with romance over the course of one summer at the beach. Kewpie doll Sandra Dee was often derided for her acting skills, but she is effective and appealing here, and it is easy to see how she became a popular star and a role model for a generation of teenage girls. Arthur O'Connell and Mary LaRoche are warm and convincing as her concerned parents, and James Darren, as surf bum "Moondoggie" makes a suitably clean-cut love interest for Dee.
Like many Hollywood films of the late 50's and early 60's, a certain tension underlies the goings-on here. The movie is essentially all about sex, yet no one actually has any sex. To latter day audiences, there are a few thought-provoking and amusing moments: Gidget's best friend, BL, appears to be a lesbian, and the muscle-bound surfers pay a great deal more attention to their surf boards - and, surprisingly, to each other - than they do to Gidget's curvaceous girlfriends.
Cliff Robertson has the meatiest role as a confirmed surf bum who, prodded by Gidget's sincerity, has a change of heart. The "Four Preps" turn up to do a musical number at the beach party, and Darren gets to croon a brief ballad to Dee.
Like most of Sandra Dee's vehicles, this film is smoothly produced in the somewhat over scrubbed, colorful but artificial style the Hollywood studios had affected by the late 50's. Nonetheless, it does an effective job of showcasing its star and making its story points (the NY Times described it as "mild but perceptive"), and it conveys a real enjoyment of the sun, surf, and sand. So popular was "Gidget" that it spawned several -mostly wretched - film sequels, and two television series, the more fondly remembered of which starred a young Sally Field.
My grandmother, Mary, was 15 years old when she first saw the first Gidget (1959) movie with Sandra Dee and James Darren, in The New Bell Theatre in Bellflower California. She and her best friend Eunice saw a movie about growing up, discovering boys, and learning lessons. Francie is a 16 year old girl, blonde and pretty, but very young in appearance. She is recruited by her female Francie to begin a "man-hunt" on the beach where they live in sunny California, and Francie reluctantly follows. As they sit on the beach, Francie's friends try to lure the muscular tanned college men over, while the guys are referring to them as jailbait, and Francie urges the girls to join her swimming. It is not that she has no interest in boys, but as Francie told her mother, "when they start smoothing and pawing, UH doesn't it make you sick too mama?!" Mama assures her that she just needs to find the right man. So the search begins.
As we watched the movie, my grandmother pointed out things she had thought as a young adolescent girl, and also things that she thought of now that had been difficult to put into words at a young age. "That blue of the ocean, oh, even as a young girl, from then on it meant sexuality to me," my grandma confides, as she looks to see that no one else heard her. As Francie breaks away from her friends, she begins to find her self more and more, in the middle of a group of about eight very attractive, muscular, and tanned men, all older than she is, teaching her how to ride those big blue waves. The guys call her Gidget, a cross between Girl and Midget, which is a barrier to Francie in the beginning, because it shows that the guys only see her as a little girl.
My grandmother explained as we watched this film together, that this movie was what "made me look at those things in a different way. I had more interest in boys at the end of the movie!" It was the first teenage love story she had ever seen, and she seemed to almost regress to a teenager as we watched the movie together. "Oh, James Darren is such a hunk!" and "I had such a crush on him..."and "what cute clothes she wears!" She commented that after this movie she made it a point to make her wardrobe similar to Sandra Dee's. "Those shirts with the hood like you wear today, they were popular back then too." She went on to say that when girls wanted to get clothes like Gidget's, they shopped at Judy's, and that it was "the absolute place! And I got to shop there!" I could hear her begin to revert to the phrases she used as a teenager as she got excited about the fashions of her childhood.
Before the movie began, my Grandma thought about what she remembered most clearly about the movie. "I remember the dress she wore, and what color it was. It sticks in my mind to this day." During the scene where Gidget gets dressed to go to the luau, my grandmother interrupts the movie to tell me something else. "There's the dress! I don't even like orange, in fact, I hate the color orange...but that's a very special dress to me."
This movie was filmed in vibrant color and shot on the beach in Malibu. This alone drew many young people to the film. It was about discovering sex and growing up, and teenagers of the fifties were very interested. This movie was memorable to my grandma and to her friends of the fifties because of a combination longing to be on a beach surfing with hunky surf bums and the excitement for the beginning of love stories made especially for teens. Sandra Dee was the perfect teenage girl in the eyes of the youth in the fifties, because she was pretty, sweet, innocent, and smart, yet she still had the sense of adventure, rebellion, and need for sex in which the kids of the fifties were becoming more and more interested.
I watched this film for what seems like the very first time last night; in fact it may have been the very first time, even though I was probably 12 or 13 the first time it was on TV. Sally Fields's version of the character was on TV then, and it was generally a kind of ditsy role which would not move one to go back and watch the original, and the bulk of the surfer movies were so inane that focusing upon the movie that started it all was not high on my list of cinéaste priorities.
Now that I've watched it I have several things to say.
1. THe "Big Kahuna" character played by Cliff Robertson is a gentle look at the beat generation. Disaffected after his return from the Korean War, the BK has decided to be a "surf bum," i.e., a beat. I'm not sure that we can see this character from that perspective today, but a couple of things should be explained: the BK had been an officer (as are all military pilots, by definition, today) and he was ironically aware of the pretense of his persona.
2. Gidget ("Francie") was an emotionally and physically underdeveloped girl, as symbolized by the fact that all of her girl "friends" are much more buxom than she. You will not find another girl with Sandra Dee's cup size in the entire picture. Her friend "BL," wearing a pixie cut, has been proposed to be a lesbian. but she has an active boy friend and has been "pinned" by him. Far from being symbolic of homosexuality, BL's haircut suggests that she is pehaps a bit more sophisticated than most of Francie's friends.
3. The razing of the kahuna's beach shack is symbolic of the ephemeral quality of the "culture" typified by the surfers and their friends. the fact that "Moondoggie" is also the boy Gidget's father has been trying to get her to meet and date all summer is a bitter irony: these boys and girls will become what they are "supposed" to become by the world in which they live.
# The title character was based on the author's daughter, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, and her adventures growing up in the surf culture on the beach at Malibu in the 1950's. As of this note (July 2006), she is 62, petite, healthy and attractive and living in Pacific Palisades with her husband of 42 years. And yes, there was a "Moondoggie", who still lives in California and is an artist.
# James Darren was originally not selected to play Moondoggie because the role required two songs to sing and Darren was not well established as a singer. On his own, he cut a single with the studio's recording subsidiary Colpix Records which charted. Columbia changed their minds and gave him the role despite the fact that he couldn't surf and was a weak swimmer. He became a huge teen idol and subsequently repeated the Moondoggie role in Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963)with two other Gidgets: Deborah Walley and Cindy Carol.
# The producer wanted Elvis Presley to play the leading male role but the studio declined because Presley was at the time too expensive.