So between studying the two tomes on the monstrous Holocaust murderer, Adolf Eichmann, discussed in “Opposing Banality” in this year’s volume, I quickly devoured the rather charming, semi-biographical story of young Kathy falling in love with surfing and the boys who somewhat reluctantly taught her. Frederick Kohner, a screenwriter, is no J. D. Salinger, just as his Gidget is no Holden Caulfield. Although told in a vernacular first person, Gidget’s tale reveals that as much as she may have felt like an outsider, she nevertheless wanted very much to be part of the culture around her, one slightly less worldly than the life of her own parents, Jewish Czech émigrés, represented. Even less happens in the novel—at least until the last scene—than in the movie, perhaps, in part, because her father wasn’t able to successfully describe the process of learning how to surf, a central feature of the Gidget franchise. Franzie tells terrible whoppers to her parents in order to sneak out each day to the beach, gets “lousy tonsillitis,” falls “desperately” in love with Moondoggie (who in real life, it turns out, was our artist friend, Billy Al Bengston), and, in an attempt to make Moondoggie jealous, hangs out in the older “great Kahoona’s” hut. Uninvited, Gidget nonetheless attends an evening celebration described by some of her friends as an “orgy”—a word she doesn’t know the meaning of—which goes awry when several of the celebrants take torches in hand for a midnight surf and accidently start a canyon fire that threatens disaster akin to the Malibu fires of 1956 and 1958 (there were also big fires in 1970 and 1982, and in the worst fire of 1993, my friend Jerome Lawrence, who lived a short distance from the beach on Las Flores canyon, lost his beautiful canyon home and all his theatrical memorabilia). The day is saved in the fiction by a miraculous downpour of rain that immediately puts out the flames! The novel ends, accordingly, with Gidget almost becoming involved in a calamity and, later, being the cause of an intense fight between the great Kahoona and Moondoggie. Either event might have landed her and others in jail. 1957, however, was a far different time than the one in which we now exist. Despite her scrapes with danger, Gidget remains as virtuous and innocent as the “nice” tom-girl portrayed by Sandra Dee a short while later.
“I certainly was! Maybe it was different in California.”
“Oh, Iowa. I went to Iowa once with an actress friend of mine who grew up there. We went to Mason City.