Gidget

1965 - United States

This sitcom about a fun-loving teenage girl was the first starring role for a young Sally Field, who successfully overcame an image of a perky television star to become a two-time Academy Award-winning actress and producer.

Based on the book by Frederick Kohner about his surfer daughter Kathy, "Gidget" (a nickname for a "girl-midget") first became popular in a 1959 film version that starred Sandra Dee as the surf-and-boy-loving Francine "Gidget" Lawrence. The movie led to two sequels, and in 1965, Columbia Pictures' television arm Screen Gems decided to turn Gidget into a half-hour comedy.

Gidget

Fresh-faced 18-year-old Field, who had graduated from a Columbia acting workshop, was tapped to play the title role; she beat 75 other teenage girls for the part. Field's freshness and effervescent personality dominated the show (along with sage advice from her professor father, Russ Lawrence, played by veteran sitcom actor Don Porter.) Lynette Winter was Gidget's best friend Larue; Betty Conner and Peter Deuel also starred as Gidget's sister and brother-in-law. (One episode also featured another future Oscar winner--Richard Dreyfuss--a classmate at fictional Westside High.)

For a show aimed at teens, Gidget was well-written, with the usual weekly moral at the end of each episode. (It was also among the first regularly-scheduled colour programmes for the then third-ranked ABC.) But the show never talked down to its audience, in part because Gidget and her dad treated each other more as equals than as father-daughter.

Gidget

Despite its pluses, Gidget found itself chewed up in the ratings during the regular season against CBS' formidable rural comedy The Beverly Hillbillies and was cancelled after its first and only season in 1966. But during the summer rerun period, something unusual happened. The show's ratings went up, but the last-minute burst of popularity came too late to bring Gidget back. Still, ABC and Screen Gems would make sure Sally Field starred in another comedy--and quickly (see The Flying Nun).

The show's lively theme was written by Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller ("Wait'll you see my Gidget/You'll want her for your Valentine...But stay away, Gidget is spoken for/You're gonna find that Gidget is mine") and sung each week over the opening credits by Johnny Tillotson (of Poetry in Motion fame).

Gidget

In 1985, a syndicated made-for-television film called Gidget's Summer Reunion did well in the ratings. Actress Caryn Richman played a now-grown-up Gidget (who owned her own travel agency); Dean Butler was her girlhood idol (and now husband) Moondoggie; who traded his surfboard for a drafting table as a city architect. The film led to a syndicated series The New Gidget, with Richman, Butler, and Sydney Penny as Gidget's niece Danni, not unlike a modern version of the teenager Gidget used to be.

William Schallart of The Patty Duke Show and other series played Gidget's father Russ Lawrence in this version, which ran longer than the original series--a two-year stretch from 1986 until 1988. It was an OK sitcom, but an older Gidget seemed to be a contradiction to the fun-loving girl many of us grew up with.

Published on March 7th, 2023. Written by Mike Spadoni for Television Heaven.

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