Until a few weeks ago, I never had watched an episode of the TV version of “Gidget” (1965-66) starring Sally Field. But as I kicked off my third summer of surfing through the “Gidget” franchise, I bought the series and took the plunge—and then I binge watched all 32 episodes for two weeks until I finished.
As I have mentioned before, my favorite Gidget in the films is Sandra Dee, who originated the role. At second place was Karen Valentine, who played Gidget in a TV film “Gidget Grows Up” (1969). However, I have to admit that Sally Field may nudge Valentine from that spot.
Frances “Gidget” Lawrence’s life story undergoes several adjustments throughout the duration of the Gidget series (1959-1986). In 1959, we start off with a shy, smart, innocent only child of two parents. Once she finds love in Hawaii (1961) and Rome (1963), Gidget gets less naïve and more precocious.
While the actors who play her parents in each film change, the TV show changes the family dynamic significantly. By 1965, Gidget’s mother has died and she also has gained a married older sister Ann, played by Betty Conner (though a sister exists in the book).
The television series, which first aired on Sept. 15, 1965, on ABC, begins with Gidget’s love Moondoggie (Stephen Mines) leaving for college in New Jersey. And from there Gidget’s escapades, schemes and adventures begin. In most episodes, Gidget has a new boy she is dating (but not going steady) and she has some new idea or problem up her sleeve.
The theme song “Wait ‘Til You See My Gidget” is performed by Johnny Tillotson, who sounds a bit like a James Darren (the original Moondoggie) sing-a-like.
Some examples of Gidget’s TV adventures include:
• Getting her surfboard stolen by a gypsy who puts a hex on Gidget, making her accident prone and believing she has been cursed
• Enrolling in shop class (and is the only girl) to prove she can fix a hearse that she wants for her car
• Taking a delivery job at a florist, though she doesn’t know how to drive
• Inspired by a protest singer, she leads a protest over an increase in movie tickets at the local theater
• Fearing her father is in love with her best friend LaRue (Lynette Winter) after giving her a makeover.
It isn’t all just surfing—in fact we don’t see the beach in every episode. We see Gidget going to school, dancing at hamburger joints, and hanging out with her friends—the quintessential 1965 teen. But most importantly, a good bit of the story deals with the close relationship she has with her dad (Don Porter).
Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started watching—especially after the disappointments of “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” and “Gidget Goes to Rome”—but within a few minutes of starting the first episode, I was laughing out loud.
The TV episodes of “Gidget” are fun, colorful and honestly pretty hilarious. I would compare the style of the show to “Bewitched,” which makes since as they were both produced by William Asher. Even Gidget’s psychology student brother-in-law John (Peter Duel) acts a little bit like Darrin Stephens—and you can tell some of Gidget’s friends live in the Stephens’ house!
While Sally Field as Gidget is delightful, Gidget’s friend LaRue is humorous, but I also sometimes felt sorry for her. The true highlight of the show for me was Don Porter as Gidget’s father, Russ Lawrence. Porter is witty, loveable and droll.
A major highlight for me was when surf bum, the Great Kahuna, makes his sole appearance in the third episode. Originally played by Cliff Robertson in the film, Martin Milner plays him in this episode. Milner is a favorite TV actor of mine and he doesn’t disappoint here. Another favorite episode co-stars Paul Lynde, who plays a father of one of Gidget’s friends.
What’s curious—is that in every film, the plot revolves around the romance and tribulations of Gidget and her boyfriend Moondoggie/Jeff. However, Jeff is mentioned in the first two episodes and then forgotten until episode 16—midway through the season—when he comes into town for a visit. Though, I did enjoy that Gidget was doing her own thing.
One of these dates is 18-year-old actor Richard Dreyfuss, playing a nerdy classmate that Gidget asks to a dance out of pity. We also see Michael Nadar in several episodes, who acted in several American International Pictures beach films.
It’s disappointing that this show only lasted one year — I was pretty shocked to learn that. And it seems that timing and scheduling was really the main issue when it came to “Gidget.”
“Gidget” was first scheduled at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday nights on ABC—following “Batman” and “The Patty Duke Show” and followed by “Big Valley.” However, “Gidget” had to compete against “The Beverley Hillbillies” on CBS and “The Virginian” on NBC—which ranked as in the top 10 and top 30, respectively, most popular TV shows of the year.
Then “Gidget” was moved to 8 p.m. on Thursday nights on ABC—following “Batman.” But the TV show still had to compete against “Gilligan’s Island” and “Daniel Boone”—which were both ranked in the top 30 most popular TV shows of the year.
So “Gidget” was canceled April 21, 1966, but over the summer reruns reached teen audiences who loved the show. Rather than revamping the show, Sally Field was cast in “The Flying Nun” (1967-70).
Knowing Sally Field’s career now, it’s pretty amazing to watch her play perky, adorable Gidget in her first professional acting job.
“(Gidget) is sort of like I was—or like I am I guess,” Field said in a Sept. 11, 1965, newspaper article. “She’s trying to grow up and trying to be accepted as an adult and yet, she does the things that little girls sometimes do.”
I do wonder if part of the initial failure was due to the fact that the surf culture and beach films were winding down. Even American International Picture’s last beach film—How to Stuff a Wild Bikini—was in 1965.
I do also wonder how writers would have progressed Francie “Gidget” Lawrence’s life to keep it interesting for several years. But meanwhile, writers somehow kept the Beverly Hillbillies confused by modern conveniences for nine years and Gilligan and his friends on the island for three.
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
- “Gidget’s Summer Reunion” (1985) starring Dean Butler