The Original Gidget: Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman

Nov 09, 2012

On October 28, 2012, the documentary "Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story" screened at the Ojai Film Festival. The film gives an account of the history behind the Gidget novel, movies and TV series by showcasing the youth of Kathy "Gidget" Kohner-Zuckerman.  

Kathy Kohner, daughter of screenwriter Frederick Kohner, began surfing in Malibu at age 15 to escape the mundane and melodramatic aspects of her high school years in the late 1950s. She earned the nickname Gidget, a portmanteau of the words "girl" and "midget," because of her short height of five feet 1 inch. Other surfers described Kathy as a "spunky surfer girl with a can-do attitude." While many women went in the ocean during Kathy's high school years, she was one of only a couple female surfers. The predominantly male surfers marginalized Kathy at first, making her trade her packed lunches in order to even get a shot at riding waves. "I was very tenacious about wanting to go surfing," Kathy remembers in the film, "and kept going with obstacles, with the boys teasing me." 

Kathy kept a journal of her experiences of breaking into the burgeoning surf culture at Malibu. Her father, upon finding the journal, read her recountings and adapted them into the best selling novel "Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas" in 1957.  The book has since sold over 500,000 copies worldwide and has been adapted into four different languages. The book was adapted into a screenplay at Columbia Pictures, where Frederick worked, and was filmed in 1959 starring Sandra Dee and Cliff Robertson. Sally Field later portrayed Gidget in the 1965 television series. 

Kathy, now 71, no longer surfs, but takes her old board out to paddle around the ocean. In 2011 Kathy was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Hall of Fame under the Woman of the Year Category, and Surfer Magazine listed Kathy as the 7th most influential surfer of all time in their 40th Anniversary Edition. 



Tags: Surf, gutsy, gal, gidget
Category: Biographies

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