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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Guldner

Beach Party Tonight! The teenage beach craze of the early 1960's.

The surf craze in southern California really didn't start until the late 1950s. In Malibu there was a young girl surfing the waves with her friends named Kathy Kohner . Her surfer buddies came up with the name "Gidget" because they said she was a girl and a midget. At only 5 feet inches and 95 pounds she was tiny but she would end up becoming a cultural icon and the inspiration for a series of films about her life. Kathy would come home from her exciting adventures on the beach and her father Frederick Kohner who was a screenwriter from Germany fled the Nazis in order to work in the film industry of Los Angeles. What he ended up doing is far greater than he may have expected. In collaboration with his daughter he turned her life into a book called Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas. Once the book was published it sold fast and Columbia Pictures bought the rights to Kohner's story and three pictures were made: Gidget (1959) Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963). Sandra Dee kicked off the first Gidget film and Sally Field became the television version on the short lived series "Gidget" that only lasted one year from 1965- 1966. The film Gidget (1959) brought surfing culture to the mainstream especially for girls. The themes of these films brought a wholesomeness that had been lacking in some teen flicks of the 1950s that capitalized on more of the juvenile delinquent aspects of teenage rebellion.

It all started with a book.....

Annette Funicello in the AIP Beach Party Films

Annette Funicello was American International Pictures star of the "clean pic". These series of Beach Party Films that continued to show white suburban teens with squeaky clean ethics of fun and surf in the sun. LSD and the counter drug culture had not yet exploded in the mainstream. Here AIP pictures had a chance to redeem itself and show it could make films with Disney princess Annette who was mild mannered and an obedient middle class girl who danced and sang in a one piece swimsuit that gave a sense of sisterly feelings instead of the over sexual vamp. Politically the times were changing and the social upheavals and growing protests dealing with the Vietnam War and white flight where a stark contrast to squeaky clean beach movies that had a modest approach to teenage sexual desire in white middle class suburbia. Surf music and rock and roll where also a big draw for teenagers but in these films the music was square and iconic instrumental surf music like the Chantays, Dick Dale, The Ventures, or Link Wray were passed by for the singing sweet square and "safe" renditions sung by the plucky Annette. No one was going to get loaded, fly out to far, or loose it yet. But these films were the bridge to a teenage counter culture that was about to change Hollywood and the innocence that was once reserved in these teenage beach teen romps.

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