Hang Ten, Girl! (Documentary Review: “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story”)

gidget poster

An enduring pop culture fixture in America, the Gidget phenomenon actually began as one teen’s true life diary turned into a book written by her father and subsequently brought to the big screen. That was 60 years ago and the legend is still riding that perfect wave to this day.


SnapShot Plot

It’s only 66 minutes long but Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story succeeds in taking you back in time to the place where it all began: the beaches of Malibu, circa 1956 and a pint sized, spunky 15 yr. old girl named Kathy Kohner. That was when the Brentwood suburbanite just showed up one day at Surfrider Beach, a place dominated by a ‘boys club’of surfer dudes who didn’t know what to make of the cute kid in the pony tail, asking a million questions about riding the waves. After lying about her age and trading her lunch for a lesson, Kathy was dubbed ‘Gidget’ (standing, of course, for girl midget) and was accepted as one of the guys. And yes, there was a real Moondoggie and The Big Kahuna; it’s all there in the pages of Kathy’s diary, which she planned on turning into a story, until her father Frederick Kohner conveniently volunteered to write it for her.

The rest, as they say, is history. An instant bestseller, Gidget – A Little Girl with Big Dreams was picked up by Columbia Pictures and America’s Sweetheart, Sandra Dee was cast in the title role, along with James Darren (Moondoggie) and A-list actor, Cliff Robertson as The Big Kahuna. The documentary shows rare behind-the-scenes footage of the production, including a water-logged Sandra Dee and reminiscences from the cast and the film’s director, Paul Wendkos. Even more interesting are the running interviews throughout Accidental Icon with not only Kathy Kohner herself, but the surviving members of the original Surfrider gang, who offer their own distinctly cynical takes on the overnight transformation of their sacred pastime into a crowded sport with mass appeal to men and women alike. Today, global estimates place the number of surfers at approximately 35 million. Bitchin’.



Parting Shot

In Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story, director Brian Gillogly traces Gidget’s legacy from the very beginning through to the sequels which followed, including television’s inevitable takeover of the franchise, with a then unknown Sally Field as the original TV Gidget. It’s within Field’s commentary that we begin to really place Gidget in a feminist light, and alongside the turbulent cultural, sexual and political tides that were turning in America during that time. The country was poised for a dramatic sea change as Feminism was taking root, a youth generation was coming of age with its own musical soundtrack, and the Vietnam War was challenging the country morally and idealistically.  At the very least, the film shows how Kathy Kohner became an unwitting icon to millions of girls across the world, proving that a once male-dominated sport could become the haven for women, who would in turn bring a new level of grace and artistry to an already wildly athletic pursuit.

It’s astonishing to consider that, if not for the success of Gidget, we might not have had the full-blown California Dreamin’ mindset and music of (now) iconic bands such as The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean and the evolution of what came to be known as Surf Music. Cinematically, too,  the surfer myth has spawned countless feature films and documentaries, most notably The Endless Summer, Blue Crush and Point Break, just to name some. But back in the late 50s, it was that fresh-faced girl who just wanted to ‘hang ten’ with the guys, who started it all. Cowabunga, Dude!


Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story is presently streaming on snagfilms.com. No subscription or download necessary, just unlimited, free streaming bliss!

gidget at home

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to announce squatters’ rights on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PhDzCqabag

1 Comment

  • Piera Accumanno says:

    Hi Norma,

    Thank you for introducing your audience to this fabulous website. I see hours of viewing ahead. Loved Gidget since I grew up with the TV show.

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