Frederick Kohner‘s American Fantasy: Gidget
Some preparatory materials for Thursday (7/30) discussion
From Mary Brantl
The Kohner Family:
Julius Kohner—proprietor of local cinema and published Internationale Filmschau. 3 sons:
Paul (1902-88), eldest son, 1921 came to Hollywood. Producer at Universal Studios; active as
agent of some note (Ingmar Bergman and John Huston clients at some time). In ‘43 was running
the European Film Fund sponsoring refugee writers/artists—knew them all (Kasper).
Frederick (b 1905 Teplitz-Schönau, Friedrich/Fritz). Studied Sorbonne in Paris. Ph.D. from
University of Vienna, diss ―Film ist Dichtung.‖1 Began screenwriting in Berlin, reporter. US late 20s.
By 1936 left Germany with wife Fritzie (d.2001). With help from Paul got a writing job at Columbia.
Walter (youngest) served in military intelligence during war; then with Radio Luxembourg; joined
Paul Kohner Agency, retired 1986; died 1996.
Kathy (FK‘s daughter a/k/a Gidget)
b. 1941; 1961 stopped surfing; Oregon State Phys Ed major; ―flunked out‖ of Peace Corps‖; taught
high/middle school in LA; 1965 m. Marvin Zuckerman (Yiddish scholar, Dean L.A. Valley College).
c. 2004 works as ―Aloha‖ hostess at Dukes, Malibu restaurant; lives Pacific Palisades area; married
with 2 sons, 3 grandchildren; numerous post 2001 Gidget-related appearances.
FREDERICK KOHNER: Screenplays, plays and story credits for various:
1933 Brennendes Geheimnis. With Hans Richter et al. Stefan Zweig story. Director Robert
1934-35 collaboration with Han Richter, Anna Seghers for Hier gibts keine Katherina a/k/a Keine
Zeit für Tränen
1936 Sins of Man. Jean Hersholt & Don Ameche; Joseph Roth book
1938 Mad about Music—Deanna Durbin vehicle; nominated for Academy award—best writing
1940 It’s a Date—Durbin vehicle involving search for love/father
1941 The Men in her Life Loretta Young.
1944 The Lady and the Monster—includes Erich von Stroheim keeping a brain alive artificially
1946 The Bees and the Flowers played Broadway for 28 shows; reincarnated in 1948 as Three
Daring Daughters (Jeanette MacDonald, Jose Iturbi, Jane Powell, et al)
1948 Bride for Sale Claudette Colbert and Robert Young
1957 NY play: Stalin Allee co-wrote with Albert Mannheimer, comedy, described as ―a penetrating
commentary on the absurdities of the Communist way of life.‖
No theatre/movie scripts etc. found for after 1957.
Diverse other screenplays or stories pre-1957: mostly ―B‖ movies
1 Per M. Kasper, North American Review 284.5 (1999): 6—first doctoral diss on cinema; also notes his
reportage for Prager Tagblatt and Berliner Tagblatt which sent him to US in 1929.
1957 Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas. NY: Berkley Books.
1959 Cher Papa; 1961 book for Gidget Goes Hawaiian
1963 Affairs of Gidget. (cover, men‘s shirt only Gidget, lots of leg, surrounded by stuffed animals
captioned ―Undersized girls have oversized drives‖); book of Gidget Goes to Rome;
1965 Gidget in Love;
1966 Gidget goes Parisienne
1968 Gidget Goes to NY
1974 Der Zauberer vom Sunset Boulevard—about brother Paul (Eng 1977)
1984 with Walter and wife Hannah writes Walter & Hannah a love story. Hannah was in the
camps (including Auschwitz), reunited after war.
Some Expanded Perspectives on Gidget:
Gidget. The Movie. 1959 directed by Paul Wendkos, with Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson and James
Darren2; Gidget Goes Hawaiian 1961 with Deborah Walley; Gidget Goes to Rome in 1963 with
Cindy Carol; 1965 TV show with Sally Fields; TV movies beginning in 1969; Gidget’s Summer
Reunion 1985; and a new TV series 1986-88.
Thomas Doherty, Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.
Elena Nash, ―‘Nowhere Else to Go‘: Gidget and the Construction of Adolescent Femininity,‖
Feminist Media Studies 2.3 (Nov. 2002): 314-56.
Allison Whitney, ―Gidget Goes Hysterical,‖ in Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice: Cinemas of
Girlhood, ed. Frances Gateward and Murray Pomerance, 55-71. (Detroit: Wayne State Univ.
R. L. Rutsky. ―Surfing the Other: Ideology on the Beach.‖ Film Quarterly 52.4 (Summer, 1999):
THEMES, ISSUES, QUESTIONS
―Why don‘t you tell me your stories and I‘ll write it‖— Whose story is Gidget?
―Can‘t hold a candle to those French novels from Sexville, but it has one advantage: it‘s a true story
on my word of honor‖—one of a couple references to Françoise Sagan novels.3
2 The 1959 movie arguably most important in transitioning Gidget to Hollywood-acceptable teenpic. Gidget
is blond Francie Lawrence. Stronger emphasis on parents; father‘s overarching plan wins out. Moondoggie
goes to college in a suit; Kahoona (who in the movie was a Korean vet) owns up to buying his surf-bum gear
and gets a job. Capitalism rests easy, big time.
3 Gidget is reading FSagan‘s Certain Smile (pub. 1955, English 1956, about student love affair with older
man) though can‘t figure out why Dominique gives up doll for ancient lush (ch 7); ―novels from Sexville
references Bonjeur Tristesse –publ. 1954, Eng. 1955 (#1 on NY Times best sellers list); Sagan (age 18) tells
of 17 year old relating to boyfriend and playboy father. Made a movie 1958 with Deborah Kerr, Jean
Occasional references to Mr. Glicksburg, English teacher
Nash says FK and Kathy appeared in national magazines where both spoke of his translation of
her life into his art‖; Life (10-28-57) gives us Frederick describing his daughter as the sort of girl
who can‘t hide anything.
Life article (10-28-57)—Frederick says he, a Ph.D. in psychology listened carefully to the kids; now
books selling well and the movies paid $50,000 and 5% of the gross. Kathy says book is ok but
there isn‘t enough surfing in it for her.
Who is Gidget?
Short and blond. (ch 2)—note she isn‘t blond in photos but will be in first movie.
Franzie (from Franziska, grandmother)
Kathy Kohner; Franzie Hofer (book); Frances Lawrence (films); Frances Elizabeth Lawrence (TV)
Kathy Zuckermann much amused with people‘s reactions to real Gidget being Jewish.
With Kathy‘s permission, dad listening in on phone calls (intro)
Father discusses Gidget‘s sexual development with brother-in-law: ―Sex…Franzie is snoopy as a
cat in that department. Maybe just because she‘s not quite developed for her age…‖
Gidget shares her bosom problems (ch 2), oils (ch 5, 7)
Sexual dreams (ch 6); post dreams takes to reading sex part of From Here to Eternity.
Gidget‘s foreign-born father:
Her father far from surfers—he can‘t swim and gets ―stomach spasms already when I do a little
body surfing‖ (ch 2)
He speaks in terrible clichés ―No siree—over my dead body‖ on account of being only a naturalized
citizen‖ (ch 3)
Book opens with age and forgetfulness (ch 1); parents ―too ancient‖ ―real antiques‖ (ch 1)
Father‘s hypochondriac; Phil Rossman his fetish (ch 6)
Concerned with American sex-obsession. Report on Sorokin: ―Americans are victims of a sex
mania as malignant as cancer and as socially menacing as communism.‖
Mother‘s advice about boy does the chasing which Gidget reads as European (ch 10)
Gidget was in Europe last year references nature (ch 2) and crummy Amn school in Berlin (ch 6)
Waitresses from France & Belgium who only reply to her French in English (ch 7)
Kahoona‘s ―decorating‖ – masks, Gauguin, etc…
Rutsky using hooks ―Eating the Other‖ on appropriating otherness suggests more complex reading
needed. Appeal, voyeurism, but also something about the westerner.
Seberg, David Niven. Nash notes that the LA Times referred to Gidget as ―a fifteen year old American
answer to Francoise Sagan;‖ Nash goes on to note that Sagan was a real person writing her own book.
―my vocabulary is really terrible‖—(ch 1)
discussing parents, Gidget references Philemon and Baucis (ch 1)
references Rachel Carson‘s The Sea around Us (ch 2); pub. 1951
dullsville at beach with parents and friends—father‘s a Prof of German Lit at USC (ch 2)
Reading Love is Eternal (ch 2)—Irving Stone, 1954, on The Lincolns
Brother-in-law Larry‘s idea that she‘s got an inferiority complex because of her father‘s zillions of
books (ch 2)
Stereotypes? Larue ―got lots of pimples but makes up for them with a sound working brain.‖ (ch 4).
[In movie, Gidget becomes A student; conquers surfing in part by reading books.]
Lawrence Cooper, M.D., brother-in-law. (married to Ann, daughter Becky)—―gray flannel suit sort‖
Larry gives Gidget‘s father ―Freud and Adler‖… (ch 8)
From Barbara‘s ―couple of fangled chassis‖ (ch 4) to getting the axe, getting jazzed up, ―flipping the
bone‖ etc etc etc.
Note, Gidget doesn‘t recognize terms like ―coozie‖ (ch. 12) and ―faggot‖ (ch 8)
What does Gidget represent—alternative readings:
D. Stillman (2001 edition): ―a long-lost Catcher in the Rye for girls‖
A more feminist reading of Gidget might also be supported by a reading of Kohner co-written Stalin
Allee, also of 1957, where the individualism, decisiveness, and positive action all lies with a female
character, the mother-in-law.
Nash & Whitney reading of Gidget‘s riding board doubles (ch 2, ch 5) as simulated sex.
Nash overall reading of this ―fetishization of a teenage girl, whose private spaces (her body, her
bedroom, and even her consciousness) are constructed as seductive objects displayed for a
hungry audience, including the girl‘s father.‖ Nash positions Gidget within a dominant ideology
which privileges male authority. Girls learn to please through submission and erotic self-exhibition.
Nash‘s girls build their sexual identity through mediation of their fathers.
NOTE: If a bit far afield for the book Gidget, a thorough review of the Gidget series and especially
the TV program (where mother is gone), is thought provoking.
See Nash for a context that allows for Lolita (published 1955, film 1962), Peyton Place (book 1956,
film 1957), and a collection of movies (largely involving pleasing father figures, sexualized teens).
Also 1950s lit/film. 1955 saw both Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause
Ozzie and Harriet and American Bandstand
Rutsky cites Gary Marris‘s argument that Gidget et al. are ―an exaggerated version of the suburban
backyard‖ of the 1950s; though Rutsky will debate.
Doherty 183 notes the role of Dick Clark in plugging clean teenpics starting with ―a series of
carefully targeted trailers and radio spots‖ and personal endorsements for Gidget, the movie.
Nash also places the Gidget franchise within the new economic factor of girl teens. By 50s girls
significantly outbought boys. Seventeen magazine appeared 1944.
By 1957 the teenage market in North America estimated at over thirty billion a year (Whitney citing
Marcel Danesi‘s Signs and Meanings of Adolescence)
What all does surfing represent?
Gidget (ch 4) references Duke Kahanamoku [Duke Paoa Kahanamoku 1912 olympian who came
to California en route to Olympics—several Hollywood roles as well]
Gender trivia: Per Whitney, in filming Gidget, real , surfing scenes used a man in woman‘s bathing
Literature from Capt Cook‘s Ltnt 18th century; Mark Twain‘s Roughing It; and Jack London (1907)
By 1940s you have photographs of women surfing; by 50s rare women participating in international
surfing championships in Hawaii.
Whatever surfing meant to Kohner, in 1962 some 26,000 boards were sold in Southern California
(some for which he shared some responsibility no doubt)—Kasper.
Consider what surfing means to Gidget vs. to her father
Alternative names, no past, young
―Gidget‖ by osmosis..girl midget, a gidget‖ (ch 3)4
Freedom embodied (Stillman‘s introduction, xv)
Bourgeois Capitalism: Vacation vs. way of life
Kahoona‘s as ‗way of life‘ – ―takes know how and talent and brains‖; independence means
independent of economic concerns (ch 4).
Kahoona vs Moondoggie (a/k/a Jeff Griffin), son of Griffin Oil Corp. who, at least, earned his
Corvette through serious work.
Rutsky, despite elements of parody, argues there is a problematic lure of anti-bourgeois involved
(dealing with films)
Without getting too bogged down in Oedipal crises, can we read issues of exile here:
What is Kohner/father‘s position? What does Gidget represent for him? Is this a full embracing of
Americanization? A full denial of one‘s European roots? Is it just possible that Father Culture
makes Daughter (Freedom) Culture possible? Does Father Culture play a necessary role in
articulating/intellectualizing the free rush of the younger culture? Does European culture (exile
culture?) have an essential role to play?
4Albert Moe in ―Gidget and Gadget,‖ American Speech 38.1 (1963): 292-95 delineated the only historic
meaning for ―gidget‖—and in the process opened a number of possibilities for feminist readers.