As we are in the midst of our Teen Scene blog series, we go back a few decades today to 1965 to take a look at Gidget.
Beginning in September of 1965, Gidget went on the air and was one of the first color programs on ABC. The show was adapted from a novel Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas by Frederick Kohner, published in 1957. It became a movie in 1959 starring Sandra Dee. Kohner then served as a script consultant for the television show. The book, movie, and tv show each differ somewhat from each other.
The television show features Gidget Lawrence (Sally Field), a typical, boy-crazy 15-year-old teen who lives with her widowed father Russell (Don Porter), a UCLA professor. Gidget’s older sister Anne (Betty Conner) is married to John Cooper (Peter Duel), a fun-loving psychology student. Anne often tries to mother Gidget while John tries to understand her psychologically. Gidget’s best friend Larue (Lynette Winter) is also part of the cast.
Gidget narrates each episode and directly addresses the audience somewhat like Modern Family. Field said she got to pick out her hairdos and clothing style. Her nickname (her real name is Frances) apparently was given her by her boyfriend, Jeff Matthews who goes by Moondoggie because she is petite and comes from combing “girl midget.” Jeff is going to school at Princeton by the time the show began but Gidget still wears his ring around her neck even though she is dating other boys including a young Martin Milner as Kahuna and a young Daniel J. Travanti as Tom.
Seventy-five girls tried out for the role of Gidget. The plots were very similar to a lot of shows in the sixties and seventies: The kids’ favorite hangout, The Shaggy Dog, is in danger of being closed to build a new museum. Gidget and her dad find themselves on opposite sides of an issue; Gidget gets a job driving a floral delivery truck. There’s just one problem—she doesn’t have a driver’s license; and Gidget falls for surfer legend Kahuna and even convinces her father to invite him over. She soon finds out that Kahuna is, when not on the beach, not that interesting.
The series was filmed at the Columbia/Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank, CA. As with most of the homes at that lot, you will notice that the Lawrence kitchen is the same one Hazel works in and the house next door is the Stephens house from Bewitched.
The theme song is a familiar one to people growing up in the sixties. It was called “Wait Till You See My Gidget” and was written by Howard Greenfield with music composed by Jack Keller. The Four Freshmen sang it in the pilot, but Johnny Tillotson did the vocals for season one.
Gidget faced some tough competition. ABC put it on the schedule Wednesday nights against The Beverly Hillbillies which was a top ten show and The Virginian, a top thirty show. Halfway through the year, the network moved it to Thursdays but it faced Gilligan’s Island which was very popular at the time. ABC canceled the show. When it put it on as a rerun for summer, the ratings increased significantly, but by that time it was too late to bring it back for fall.
The show can be seen on several networks. Antenna TV sometimes airs it for special days. It’s also available on DVD.
It sounds like the cast became fairly close during their year together. When the DVD was released, Field did an interview in which she stated that Don Porter and she had a father/daughter relationship off-screen too. Because she was new to the business, he often mentored her and helped her avoid embarrassing moments. In an interview reflecting on her time on the show, Sally said that she always loved working with Lynette Winter and looked forward to their time on the show together. Field also became friends in real life with Winter.
I do remember watching this show in reruns and I always liked it, but I think it was definitely a product of its time and probably spoke more to people who were teens in the early sixties. If nothing else, we can be thankful for this show because it launched the amazing career of Sally Field.