Frances "Gidget" Lawrence lives with her widowed college professor father in California. Anne is her older sister who is married to John Cooper, a psychology student. Gidget spends most of ... See full summary »
Frances "Gidget" Lawrence lives with her widowed college professor father in California. Anne is her older sister who is married to John Cooper, a psychology student. Gidget spends most of her free time at the beach, hanging out with friends and surfing. She also has a knack for getting in and out of trouble. Gidget speaks to the audience during her journey to adulthood, letting them know exactly what's on her mind and what she's discovered about life. Written by
By the time ABC filmed the 1965-1966 television version of "Gidget," Frederick Kohner's 1957 novel of that name (based on the adventures of his daughter Kathy) had already provided the basis for three motion pictures. Unlike the Gidget films, however, the television series does not focus on Gidget's romantic involvements. We rarely see her boyfriend Jeff, who is a student at Princeton; and her romantic interests are primarily limited to ill-advised infatuations that do not last beyond a single episode. The television series devotes most of its attention to Gidget's relations with her family, her peers, and her teachers. As with the movies, surfing is an underlying theme, but much of the action takes place away from the beach, and deals with such mundane subjects as school work, dating, getting a job, and learning to drive, as well as more unusual ones such as escaping from a "haunted" house, or evading a witch's "curse." In coping with life, Frances Lawrence, whose diminutive stature earned her the nickname "Gidget" (a contraction of "Girl" and "Midget"), gets advice, sought and unsought, from her father Russ (Don Porter), a UCLA English professor, her sister Anne (Betty Conner), her brother-in-law John (Pete Duel), and her best friend Larue (Lynette Winter). "Gidget" captures the different dynamic that exists in a one-parent, one-child, family--Gidget and her father are especially close. Anne is a somewhat conventional meddling older sister who is trying to make Gidget into a lady. John is an aspiring psychologist who attributes nearly everything to subliminal motives. Gidget customarily ignores their suggestions. Larue is a rather eccentric figure, who visits the beach clad in clothing that conceals everything but her face (and sometimes that as well) because she is allergic to sunlight. Gidget often gets together with Larue to consume exotic sandwiches and discuss whatever problem she is facing. Despite her eccentricities, Larue's judgment is often better than Gidget's, but she sometimes gets drawn into Gidget's misadventures against her will.
Sally Field landed the role of Gidget through a summer workshop screen test. She had participated in secondary school dramatic productions, but she had had no on-screen experience apart from being a supernumerary in the forgettable 1962 film, "Moon Pilot." Although 19 when the program was filmed, Field is entirely credible as the 15-year-old Gidget. And, in mastering this role, she gave early evidence of the acting talent that was to win her many parts (from the Flying Nun to Mary Todd Lincoln) and awards. Her attitude toward the filming of "Gidget" was "absolute total glee," and her performances reflect this. Don Porter served as her mentor; and there was good chemistry between them, both on and off camera. Similarly, Field described Lynette Winter as her "best friend" in real life as well as in the show. Winter brought to her role a veritable arsenal of facial expressions, and a talent for physical comedy perhaps even greater than Field's. It is hard to imagine "Gidget" without these three. Conner and Duel successfully portray an annoying sister and brother-in-law; and Duel displays surprising aptitude for slapstick when he accidentally disconnects the water supply hose to the washing machine, drenching Anne, Gidget, and himself (we are left to wonder what the soaked cat, watching from a corner, thought of this human folly).
"Gidget" is a conglomeration of 1960s artifacts--cars, clothes, hair styles, dances, record players, dial telephones, VHF/UHF television sets, and manual typewriters. In terms of its cast, subject matter and attitudes, it is also a product of its times. Occasionally, there are explicit, if not emphatic, references to sex, and to Gidget's physique. And the cast includes African-Americans playing minor, but respectable, characters. But the women are definitely not liberated. One of Gidget's male acquaintances commands her, "Go fetch food, woman!" Her father tells one of her male classmates what to do "when a woman clamors for complete equality with men," and implies that women really do not want such equality. Gidget receives a spanking in one episode, as does a visiting Swedish female student in another. (No male characters suffer this indignity.) As Gidget concludes in one postscript, "I'd set back women's rights a hundred years--exactly where they belonged." Today, some of this may grate on the nerves, even of those not sensitized to gender issues. On the other hand, in several episodes, Gidget attempts to improve the behavior of her male associates, and, more generally, her participation in surfing involved breaking into what had been a male preserve.
An episode of "Gidget" typically ends with sage advice from Russ, or--better--a humorous epigram from Gidget herself, such as: "You're only young once; but if you work it right, once is enough." Or: "It's too bad you can't be born with maturity, then lose it when you don't need it anymore."
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