The “Real Life” Gidget Returns To Coronado Sept. 13 - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Island News

The “Real Life” Gidget Returns To Coronado Sept. 13

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Posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 9:59 am

Kathy Zuckerman, the real life Gidget, will return to Coronado Saturday, September 13, for a showing of the documentary film “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story.” The screening will be held at the Coronado Performing Arts Center located at Coronado High School from 4 to 6 p.m. Tickets for the event are $22.50 for adults and $12 for children and students. A portion of the ticket sales will benefit the Coronado School of the Arts and Blue Wave Surf Camp.

Accompanying Zuckerman will be the documentary’s writer, director and producer Brian Gillogly. The program will feature a question-and-answer session with Zuckerman and Gillogly plus a celebrity panel which organizers are expecting to include James Darren, surfing legend Mickey Munoz, and Caryn Richman who portrayed Gidget on the television series “The New Gidget” from 1986-88. Tickets to this event are sold online only through

In addition, a VIP after-party, which has a ticket price of $60, will be held after the screening. This event is for Gidget fans who are over 21 years of age only since alcohol will be served. To purchase tickets go to The pass code to purchase the VIP tickets is gogidget. The VIP party will run from 7:30 to 10:30 pm.

Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, now 73 years old, developed her life-long love affair with Malibu at the age of three, when her parents first introduced her to the beach. “By default they took me to the beach instead of going to the movies. I saw the guys surfing and it was too boring sitting with my parents. Then I caught a glimpse of the guys.”

Wielding a surfboard that was eight feet, six inches long and weighed 22 pounds, Zuckerman started surfing at the age of 15. During our phone interview Monday evening, Zuckerman said, “I have the diary pages to prove it. I can tell you exactly what I did from ages 15-17 and all of the experiences I had in Malibu when I was surfing.”

As an aside, the name ‘Gidget’ is a amalgamation of the words ‘Girl’ and ‘Midget’ and was coined for Zuckerman.

Her diary pages undoubtedly assisted her father Frank Kohner, a screenwriter and playwright, when he penned the book “Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas.” Kohner wrote the book in just three weeks, according Zuckerman, thereby launching a cultural phenomenon which would expand to include movies, the stage and television. Although the book is a work of fiction, with the names and characters from real life morphed in the book, Zuckerman is clearly the person upon whom the book is based.

Kohner wrote screenplays for a total of 18 films, including “Mad About Music” which starred Deanna Durbin, which was released in 1938 and earned Kohner an Academy Award nomination. He also wrote the Broadway play “The Bees and the Flowers.”

Ironically Kohner’s screen credits didn’t include any of the Gidget movies, as he sold the movie rights to the book for $50,000. As Zuckerman noted, “My sister and I own the rights to the literary works of my father.” Another important right held by Zuckerman is the cover photo of her that graces the cover of the original book. “It’s an iconic photograph and I own the image. The original copyright had expired and we always have to acknowledge that Ernest Lennart was the photographer. The picture graces the menu at Duke’s Malibu and it is on every Duke’s bar menu along with other photos. I have been with Duke’s Restaurant in Malibu for 13 years and I am the ‘Ambassador of Aloha.’ Duke Kahanamoku was the ‘Ambassador of Aloha’ at the original Duke’s restaurant (on Oahu). Duke’s Malibu is the only place that has Gidget books for sale. The reissued book has been out for 10 years.”

Zuckerman has had the unique experience of being portrayed by nine actresses, either in movies, on stage, in television or via voiceovers. When asked if she had a personal favorite actress who portrayed her, Zuckerman responded, “Well I would have to go with Miss Sandra Dee. I knew her and I was on the (movie) set with her. She created a character on film that has lasted forever.” In the subsequent film sequels and the television shows based on her life, that was the only time Zuckerman was actually on-set for filming.

After graduating from University High School in Los Angeles, Zuckerman went to Oregon State University for a very simple reason. “I heard the skiing was good. I left after two years because it was a little too provincial. Then I went to Cal State Northridge and graduated. I earned a teaching credential, joined the Peace Corps and got kicked out of the Peace Corps. Marvin and I got married in 1965 and I was a substitute teacher. Then I worked in a bookstore and after the television show called “The New Gidget” came out, I became a travel agent. Then I was in the restaurant business for 30 years, including the last 13 at Duke’s.”

Kathy and Marvin Zuckerman’s family includes two sons and three grandchildren. She said regarding the longevity of her marriage, “It’s all about choosing your battles.” Despite a distinguished lineage, surfing didn’t catch on with her children. “We were not a surfing family. I kept away from the surfing arena until the late 80’s or 90’s, when someone thought it would be a good thing to join the surf community again. I’ve singlehandedly sold 30,000 copies of the book ‘Gidget’.”

One of several residents of Coronado who have a unique connection to Gidget is Les Arndt. “Les was the best friend of Bill Jensen and he was my big love interest in those days,” Zuckerman said. “I was always looking out for Bill on the beach. Jensen is going to be at the movie in Coronado. Lester is a very cool guy. He has come to see me at Duke’s and he is in the documentary. He came to the Coronado Historical Museum when I was there in 2001.”

This is where we first encounter Gillogly and the concept of a documentary based on the real Gidget and her Malibu experiences. Gillogly is a self-described ‘Navy Brat’ who was born in Norfolk, Virginia. “I lived all over the East Coast and in Brazil, because my mother is Brazilian,” the two-time Emmy Award winning director said. “I didn’t start surfing until I was about 12 or 13, but my whole life after that revolved around surfing. I had one foot in Hollywood and one foot on the beach.”

After earning a degree in Political Science at UCLA, being a Top 10-ranked West Coast surfer and member of the school’s Surf Team, Gillogly turned to show business. For years he was the go-to writer/producer/director for surfing-related features and content that included other extreme sports. Gillogly added, “I did more segments circa 1984 on surfing and extreme sports than anybody on earth. I was typecast as the guy who knew alternative sports.”

Gillogly’s early work included 25 years as a segment producer, including work on the “Eye on LA” show. Gillogly recounted the success of the show. “Eye on LA started up as an underfunded community show. Then it went to primetime before going to late night on the ABC Network where it became ‘Eye on Hollywood.’ It got shown all over the U.S. We had all of the best editors and any music we wanted. It was a great place to learn how to do a four to six minute documentary.”

Gillogly is also a writer and while working on a feature for “Surfer Magazine” in the early 1980’s on the relationship between surfing and Hollywood, he first encountered Zuckerman. “I met Kathy when I was working on the article and she became a featured part of the article because she had a great story. We kept in touch and in 1999 I wanted to do an independent documentary and it revolved around Kathy. And the documentary evolved from there.”

Among the first interviews Gillogly taped for “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story” was in Coronado in 2001 when Zuckerman was at the Coronado Historical Museum for an appearance and a book signing. Gillogly said, “That’s when we shot Les Arndt and Bill Jensen. Plus we shot a lot of B-roll (background footage) at the Historical Society. It was a useful shoot.”

With shooting starting in 2001, Gillogly held an advance screening of his film in 2007 and immediately ran into rights issues regarding some of the film clips he used in his documentary. “We thought we could pay off the movie clips,” Gillogly said of the difficult stage of the documentary’s production. “We spent another three years trying to crack that nut. My wife heard a story on National Public Radio about the fair use of film footage in documentaries and I found Jack Lerner, who was an attorney and professor at USC. He is one of the gurus of fair use and he helped me get through the re-edit. We had the world premiere of the documentary in 2010 at the NOOSA Festival of Surfing in Australia. Baby Boomer-aged women love Gidget. We met women from the Midwest who came to California, who wanted to surf like Gidget.”

I asked Gillogly who in his opinion was the quintessential screen version of the Zuckerman, the real Gidget. “Sandra Dee had such a presence. I guess you could judge Gidget against either her or Sally Field, who was probably closer in appearance and demeanor to Kathy. Sally Field was an amazing actress from the very start. You can see it in the television shows. She could cry on cue and she had a lot of passion, timing and humor.”

Seemingly Gillogly was the perfect candidate to ask about Zuckerman’s place in cultural history, and he replied, “Surfing changed and she was the impetus. It wouldn’t have happened without Kathy and her father. She just helped accelerate the change in surfing to a modern sport. Modern surfboards were starting to happen, along with the advent of the Beach Boys, when the Gidget movie broke in 1959. Kathy was the great accelerator. She had a profound effect on women. If you didn’t see the Gidget movies, women watched the Gidget TV shows. Women for a long time related to that character. Those TV shows were like beautiful little movies. They had production values, were shot on film and directed well by Bill Asher, who passed away a couple of years ago.”

Regarding “Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story,” Zuckerman said, “People love it when they see it. Bill made a very fine documentary. A lot of the people in the movie aren’t with us anymore, so it’s a piece of history. I was very close to Frank Pierson, who was a wonderful screenwriter and he does a wonderful interview in the documentary. He was my connection to Old Hollywood and to my family. He knew the generation who isn’t around anymore.

Zuckerman currently resides in Pacific Palisades, but as she says, “It’s all about the BU. You’ve got to love Malibu, watching the waves come in when there are sets. The Malibu Pier is iconic. That’s where I grew up. If I don’t go there for a while, I miss it and need to go back. Surfing is now a billion dollar business due to the Gidget movie.”

When asked about her influence on surf culture Zuckerman replied, “I’ve never thought much about the impact. I was the one surfing and Hollywood made an amazing film that got a lot of little girls and women into surfing. I’m humbled about the icon theme of the documentary. What I had was a lot of tenacity and I wanted to surf. And I wanted the boys to see it. It’s a unisex ocean.”

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