From 1959 to 1986, there were nine versions of “Gidget” on TV and film, live action and animated.
I’ve refrained from calling versions made from 1959 to 1972 “the worst” of the Gidget series, because they aren’t.
“Gidget Goes Hawaiian” isn’t great but it has some bright spots and is colorful. “Gidget Goes to Rome” is a little too syrupy sweet, and “Gidget Gets Married” was just goofy.
Gidget (Caryn Richman) and Moondoggie/Jeff (Dean Butler) are married, living in a house they can’t afford and working paycheck to paycheck. Gidget runs a travel agency and Jeff works as a contractor and has a sexy blond boss, Anne (Mary Frann). Their 15-year-old niece Kim (Allison Barron) comes to stay the summer and is ready to learn how to surf and gets tangled with a college-aged surfing jerk (Vincent Van Patten) who only has one thing on his mind.
Gidget is so busy at work that her marriage is falling apart and Anne is reaching out her claws for Jeff. Just as Gidget attempts to patch up her married and is planning a surprise birthday party for Jeff with the old surfing gang, she has to take over on a tour of Hawaii when her tour guide gets sick.
When the old surfing gang finally gets together, the same sex-maniac surfing jerk lays claim to the beach telling them to leave. The Big Kahuna (Don Stroud) challenges him to a surf off, which features some dramatic electric guitar music and camera angles.
It all ends with Gidget and Moondoggie running into the ocean—with their clothes on—and kissing and hugging.
Sounds like the typical 1980s overly dramatic plot right?
There are a lot of things wrong with this TV movie. First of all, it’s 100 minutes. “Gidget Grows Up” (1969) had more complicated plot lines and ran at only 75 minutes!
And let’s just get this out of the way: Moondoggie, a role originated by James Darren, is played by Almanzo “Manly” Wilder from “Little House on the Prairie.” That’s right, Laura Ingalls’ husband is moonlighting as the girl midget’s childhood sweetheart.
Second, Gidget pops out at the beginning and says she’s 27 and Jeff is about to turn 30. Now let’s do some math: in the first 1959 Gidget film, she was approximately 17. In the following 1961 and 1963 films, Gidget continues growing up through high school and maybe starts college, though this isn’t clear.
In the 1965 TV show, Gidget is a teenager again, which makes sense since it seems they started a new story line that deviated from where “Gidget Goes to Rome” (1963) left off. Then in 1969 in “Gidget Grows Up,” Gidget is mid-way through college and in her 20s, and in “Gidget Gets Married” (1972), the newlyweds are probably in their late-20s or early 30s.
The age and life progression makes sense from 1959 to 1972. Gidget isn’t a character like Nancy Drew who always stayed between the ages of 18 and 20, she grew up. This 1985 version even references “Gidget Gets Married” when they mention living in Florida.
Throughout the movie, Beach Boys music is also playing in the background. Now, I know the Beach Boys and nostalgia were having a resurgence during this time, but Gidget and Moondoggie would have been children during the surf craze with the way they are aged in this movie.
“Gidget’s Summer Reunion” would be more believable and possibly (but probably not) more tolerable if Gidget and Moondoggie were in their early 40s and facing financial problems and relationship uncertainties.
What’s worse, is that they act like 30 is like being 70. During the surfing reunion, they laugh and compare who still has their hair and has gained weight. These men are only supposed to be in their early 30s! They also mention that they “haven’t surfed since 1972!” which again, wasn’t when all of this was supposed to take place.
Throughout the Gidget series, Gidget and Moondoggie have had tumultuous relationships and fought often. This continues through this film. Gidget flies off the handle like she always did and Moondoggie doesn’t really handle it well. It’s really a wonder they stayed married throughout the series.
The only saving grace of “Gidget’s Summer Reunion” is that William Schallert plays Gidget’s dad. But that really isn’t saying much since he literally is interrupted the whole movie.
This movie spawned a television series, “The New Gidget.” It lasted two seasons—from 1986 to 1988, which is one year longer than the 1965 Sally Field series lasted. The show focuses on their niece, who gets in the same predicaments that Gidget used to tangle herself in.
Since the show ended in 1986, there hasn’t been another version of Gidget. Unless you want to count Kate Boswoth playing Sandra Dee in the 2004 Bobby Darin biopic “Beyond the Sea,” but I wouldn’t.
Even while the other Gidget films weren’t great, they were at least joyful and fun. “Gidget’s Summer Reunion” is simply stupid, poorly cast and dated.
In every “Gidget” review, I keep coming back to Sandra Dee and James Darrin in the 1959 version. There is just no denying that they never improved on the casting, script or music in that first film. Though it came out in 1959, it’s more timeless than this TV movie that aired in 1985.
Check out the 1985 promo just to get a feel for the movie:
Read more about the three Gidget feature films and our interview with Kathy Kohner:
- “Gidget” (1959) starring Sandra Dee, James Darren, Cliff Robertson
- “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961) starring Deborah Walley, James Darren
- “Gidget Goes to Rome” (1963) starring Cindy Carol, James Darren, Jessie Royce Landis
- An Interview with Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, the real Gidget
- “Gidget Grows Up” (1969) starring Karen Valentine
- “Gidget Gets Married” (1972) with Michael Burns