Review: The New Gidget TV series (1986-1988)

The 1980s are remembered for big hair, leg warmers and neon colored clothing set to a soundtrack of David Bowie and Michael Jackson. But it was also filled with 1960s nostalgia and reboots.

The Monkees were on a revival tour in 1986, Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” sold Campbell’s Soup, and the California Raisins sang Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

And then there were the television reboots. There was “The New Leave It to Beaver” (1983-89), The New Monkees (1987), The Munsters Today (1987-91), and The New Lassie (1989-92).

Caryn Richman and Dean Butler as Gidget and Moondoggie in a publicty shot for “The New Gidget.”

And there was “The New Gidget” (1986-88), which was the last film or TV show about Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, the surfing girl midget. While three made-for-TV movies filled the gap (Gidget Grows Up, Gidget Gets Married, and Gidget’s Summer Reunion), “The New Gidget” (1986-88) comes 20 years after the first Gidget (1965-66) TV show graced the small screen.

Following the made-for-TV movie “Gidget’s Summer Reunion” (1985), the television show follows married Gidget (Caryn Richman) and Jeff “Moondoggie” Griffin (Dean Butler) working as a travel agent and architect. Gidget’s niece Dani (Sydney Penny) lives with the couple while her parents, Gidget’s sister Anne and brother-in-law John, live overseas. William Schallert plays Gidget’s father, Russ Lawrence, and reminds Gidget that Dani’s exploits aren’t too different from her own as a teenager. Gidget’s old friend LaRue (Jill Jacobson) runs the travel agency with her in Santa Monica.

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Review: Gidget TV series (1965-1966)

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.

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Review: Gidget’s Summer Reunion (1985) TV Movie

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.

gidgetBut the worst came in 1985 with the two hour made-for-TV movie “Gidget’s Summer Reunion.”

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.

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Review: Gidget Gets Married (1972) TV movie

Gidget and Moondoggie’s romance started onscreen in 1959 on the beaches of Malibu.
Though the real Gidget didn’t marry “Moondoggie,” the fictional one tied the knot in a 1972 TV movie, “Gidget Gets Married.”

At the end of the TV movie “Gidget Grows Up” (1969), Gidget and Jeff get engaged. Two years later, Gidget (Monie Ellis) has left her job at the United Nations and is now working as a first grade teacher. Jeff “Moondoggie” Stevens (Michael Burns) returns home from the Air Force and is ready to get married immediately.

Jeff/Moondoggie (Michael Burns) and Gidget (Monie Ellis)

Jeff/Moondoggie (Michael Burns) and Gidget (Monie Ellis)

The two go to Gidget’s dad (Macdonald Carey) who is wary of such a quick wedding but relents when he hears Jeff has an engineering job lined up. Former child star and Gidget’s old landlord Louis B. Latimer (Paul Lynde) attends the wedding and brings his movie cameras to capture the moment.

The movie is less about the wedding and more about the newlyweds adjusting to married life, new jobs and communities.

They move to Florida for Jeff’s job at Worldwide Dynamics. Their home is located in a company owned community and furniture is provided by Worldwide Dynamics, which doesn’t sit well with Gidget, because she can’t decorate her first home. Jets also fly over Gidget’s neighborhood. Worldwide Dynamics is separated into three communities based on status within the company and the neighborhoods aren’t supposed to fraternize.

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Review: Gidget Grows Up (1969) TV movie

The world was changing in the late-1960s.

The anti-authority, anti-capitalism, anti-war and free-love movements brought a shift in popular culture.

The surf culture that erupted after Fredrick Kohner’s book “Gidget” hit the shelves was starting to fade with dissatisfaction of establishment. This caused a shift in pop culture, and films and music focused more on social movements and issues rather than wanting to hold hands or surf the USA. There no longer was a place for Technicolor fluff films focusing on beach parties, surfing and wahinis in wild bikinis.

So how does Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, the surfing “girl midget” who first appeared in 1957, fit in a changing world?

She goes to work at the United Nations.

Gidget (Karen Valentine) and her friends Diana (Susan Batson) and Minnie (Helen Funai) become United Nations guides. (Comet Over Hollywood screencap)

Gidget (Karen Valentine) and her friends Diana (Susan Batson) and Minnie (Helen Funai) become United Nations guides. (Comet Over Hollywood screencap)

After three feature “Gidget” films and a 1965 television show that lasted one season, the 1969 television film “Gidget Grows Up” places Gidget in New York City. She’s ready to change the world at the United Nations (UN), which she describes as “one of humanity’s noblest achievements.”

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“It was my father’s success”: An interview with the real “Gidget”

 Comet Over Hollywood has reviewed the three “Gidget” feature films this summer. To wrap up the series, Comet interviewed Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the real Gidget whose summer story inspired her screenwriter father to write a book. The conversation was delightful. Ms. Zuckerman was down-to-Earth and it felt like talking and laughing with an old friend. 

(r) Kathy Kohner in 1957 in the photo that was used on the book cover. (L) Kohner Zuckerman pictured in 2014 at Duke's, where she works.

(r) Kathy Kohner in 1957 in the photo that was used on the book cover. (L) Kohner Zuckerman pictured in 2014 at Duke’s, where she works.

It was a different world for Kathy Kohner as she walked on the film set of “Gidget” in 1959.

“It was hard to understand that they were making a movie about me,” said Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the real “Gidget,” in a phone interview with Comet Over Hollywood on Tuesday, Aug. 25. “They weren’t even filming at Malibu.”

The 1959 “Gidget” film that starred Sandra Dee, James Darren and Cliff Robertson spawned two more feature films, two television shows and several made-for-TV movies. And it all began with a 15-year-old girl telling her father that she wanted to write a story about her summer.

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Reviews: Gidget Goes to Rome (1963)

Gidget_Goes_to_Rome_1963_posterGidget Goes to Rome” isn’t the best of the three Gidget feature films, but it isn’t the worst.

While Sandra Dee is the best actress who plays Gidget, Cindy Carol is a distance second.

In this film, we join Gidget and her friends for a third summer. Gidget (Carol) is about to go off to college and is planning a trip to Rome, Italy with her friends—Lucy (Noreen Corcoran) and Libby (Trudi Ames). She’s trying to convince her boyfriend Moondoggie/Jeff (James Darren) and his buddies—Judge (Joby Baker) and Clay (Peter Brooks)—to come along. But before they can head abroad, Gidget’s parents need some convincing. They will only let Gidget go if she has a chaperon. Judge enlists his rich, eccentric Aunt Albertina (Jessie Royce Landis). Without her knowledge, Gidget’s father (Don Porter) writes to an old friend he met in Italy during World War II, Paolo Cellini (Cesare Danova).

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Review: “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961)

gidget-goes-hawaiian-movie-poster-1961-1010681749I almost stopped this movie after watching for 20 minutes.

Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961) is the worst of the Gidget series. Even the 1969 made-for-TV film, “Gidget Grows Up” starring Karen Valentine, is better.

The success of the 1959 “Gidget” film was followed by two feature films, three made-for-TV movies and two television shows.

As previously mentioned, I adore the film “Gidget” (1959) that spawned a beach culture craze. However, the film that followed two years later is abysmal.

In the film, Moondoggie/Jeff Matthews (James Darren) returns from college. He and Gidget spend a carefree summer together, and Moondoggie gives Gidget his fraternity pin. All is bliss until Gidget’s parents (Jeff Donnell, Carl Reiner) surprise her with a trip to Hawaii. Rather than being overjoyed, Gidget is outraged, because she will have to leave Moondoggie, who only has two weeks of summer vacation left. In a tizzy, she runs to tell him the bad news. Rather than being angry with her, Moondoggie is happy that she has the opportunity to go on this trip. Naturally Gidget assumes that this means he doesn’t love her, so she flies off the handle, gives him back his fraternity pin and decides she wants to go to Hawaii.

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Gidget: Bringing the Surf Culture to Mainstream

When I first started getting interested in classic films, my mom would get excited about movies she wanted to introduce to me. “Gidget” (1959) was one that she could hardly wait to show me.

Views of Sandra Dee in some of my favorite swimsuits and dresses from "Gidget."

Views of Sandra Dee in some of my favorite swimsuits and dresses from “Gidget.”

Sitting there on a Sunday night at age 14, I fell in love with this film. It’s an explosion of color on the gorgeous backdrop of Malibu beach. It features awesome surfing shots and has excellent cast filled with one-liners that are real gems. It’s the perfect fun-in-the-sun Southern California travelogue. To date, it also has one of my favorite film wardrobes.

The movie was pivotal in my film love and got me further entrenched in 1960s pop culture. I read up on famous surfers, researched surfer lingo, listened to the Beach Boys, plastered 1960s surf images around my room and hunted for bathing suits that gave off a 1960s vibe. Of course, I wanted to learn how to surf, which has still never happened since I live four hours away from the beach on the east coast.

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