Books

Malibu loves Gidget

GidgetThis spring Malibu is reading the original Frederick Kohner novella Gidget, inspired by the surfing subculture his daughter Kathy joined at the beach there one summer in the fifties. The book made Malibu beach famous, spawned a movie starring Sandra Dee, a TV show starring Sally Field and just about every reference in the world to girls named Gidget, and it's rightly this month's "One City, One Book" selection there. Author Deanne Stillman has written persuasively before about Gidget's cultural influence, and she makes a further case on today's Times op-ed page, taking off from Kohner's roots as a Jewish emigre who escaped the Nazis by coming to Hollywood.

Published in 1957, "Gidget" was a huge hit. It was compared to "Catcher in the Rye" and was described by this paper as "midsummer madness about beach bums, surfboards, Malibu."

But it also was about so much more: Gidget and those who surfed Malibu in the '50s were the rebels of their time, fleeing the world of clock-punchers and landlocked squares. Following the ancient surf-riding Hawaiians, these pioneers stoked the wave that swept the planet, luring millions to the edge of California, where they walked on water by standing on a board.

Some say it was Hollywood that lured emigres from afar. I like to think it was a sea siren, whispering of freedom and endless summer. Were it not for Frederick Kohner settling near the coast, the novella that launched a thousand boards and the secrets of Malibu would have been lost to the ages.

Stillman wrote the introduction to the reissued version of Gidget and is now at work on Horse Latitudes: Last Stand for the Wild Horse in the American West, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006.


More by Kevin Roderick:
Standing up to Harvey Weinstein
The Media
LA Times gets a top editor with nothing but questions
LA Observed Notes: Harvey Weinstein stripped bare
LA Observed Notes: Photos of the homeless, photos that found homes
Recent Books stories on LA Observed:
Pop Sixties
LA Observed Notes: Bookstore stays open, NPR pact
Al Franken in Los Angeles many times over
His British invasion - and ours
Press freedom under Trump and the Festival of Books
Amy Dawes, 56, journalist and author
Richard Schickel, 84, film critic, director and author
The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner: An Interview with Ron Rapoport
Previous story: Touchy, touchy

Next story: Q-A with Nikki Finke


 

LA Observed on Twitter