Gidget goes to Oz; comes back to the ‘Bu

The following piece is written by the director and producer of “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story.”

“Fish out of water” is a timeless plot device in novels and feature films, and Frederick Kohner’s landmark 1957 novella, “Gidget,” really reeled it in. A girl encounters a group of bohemian male surfers on the beach at Malibu, entices them with food, learns to surf and falls in love with one of the young men.

The book was a bestseller, one notch ahead of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” on the Los Angeles Times’ top 10 list, and inspired a 30-year film/TV franchise for Columbia.

The twist is that the tale was based on the true experiences of Kohner’s daughter Kathy Kohner at the `Bu in the mid-50s, even if the real story was a bit grittier and textured. In fact, as she reveals in the documentary, “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story,” young Kohner was looking for a place to belong, a “third place” besides home and school. Surfing and the guys on the beach provided that refuge. Yes, being the odd girl out was rough going at first, but eventually she fit in and changed surfing forever.

Kohner’s place in the explosive growth of the sport in the early ’60s, accidental though it was, was celebrated when she and husband Marvin Zuckerman visited the land Down Under in March for the 2010 Noosa Festival of Surfing and Australian premiere of “Accidental Icon.” There, she autographed copies of her father’s book at Noosa Longboards, a surf shop just across the street from the classic right point break of Noosa Headlands. Signed paperback copies of the 2001 reprinting of “Gidget” novel went for three to four times the U.S. price, but her fans didn’t flinch. In an island nation where surfing is hot and surf culture taken seriously, Kohner was celebrity de jour.

At one of the signing events, a middle-aged bloke actually professed a teenage crush on Kohner, though he probably meant Sally Field, inasmuch as Field’s 1965 “Gidget” TV series made waves down here. Perhaps more surprising was a 20-something woman named Tracy, who owns the biggest personal collection of “Gidget” memorabilia yet.

“There’s stuff here I’ve never seen before!” Kohner said in amazement.

A block from the beach was “Surf City,” the staging area for films, concerts and booths, but one local dubbed it, “Woodstock meets Noosa,” for the muddy field drenched by unusually heavy rains. The sound from a concert during the early days of the event had actually been drowned out by tropical cloudbursts. However, later in the week, the gods smiled down on the California surfer girl as fair weather prevailed for “Gidget’s Night Out,” an extravaganza culminating with the screening of the documentary in the big tent.

Introducing the movie was seven-time World Surf Champion Layne Beachley, California surf pioneer Mickey Munoz and the “Gidge.” This was no mere assemblage of surf notables, though, as Beachley had assumed the nickname “Gidget” in her younger day, and Munoz had doubled for Sandra Dee in the original “Gidget” film. The organizers even persuaded Munoz to don a replica of one of Dee’s orange swimsuits from the film. Munoz, his body toned from regular stand-up paddle surf sessions, pulled it off.

“Accidental Icon” had been radically re-cut for legal and creative reasons, and no one in Australia, not even Kohner and Zuckerman, had seen this edit.

Now, this re-cut version of “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story), which is narrated by Jorja Fox (“CSI”), will screen at the Malibu Pier on Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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