Because Charles Busch found inspiration from several sources for the storyline, characters, and references made in Psycho Beach Party, we thought we would take a look at the history of those inspirations, so we might understand the show even better. First up, Gidget!
The original Gidget was created by Frederick Kohner in his 1957 novel Gidget, The Little Girl With Big Ideas (reprinted numerous times under the shortened title Gidget, by which it is more widely known), written in the first person and based on the accounts of his daughter Kathy of the surf culture of Malibu Point. A prolific screenwriter with one Academy Award nomination, he went on to publish seven sequels to this novel.
Kohner, a Czechoslovakian Jew, worked in the German film industry as a screenwriter until 1933 when he emigrated to Hollywood after the Nazis started removing Jewish credits from films. Over the coming decades Kohner and his wife Franzie raised their two daughters by the beach while he toiled as a screenwriter for Columbia Pictures. As his children grew into American teenagers he noticed that his daughter Kathy in particular was drawn into a very specific, regional, contemporary slice of American teenage culture – the surf culture.
Surfing was a then minor youth movement that built its foundation around a sport, love of the beach, and jargon that must have proved a challenge to an Eastern European immigrant. The details fascinated Kohner, who was empathetic with his daughter’s feminist intention to participate in a “boys-only” sport. A book was conceived and Kathy became her father’s muse as he delved into the surfing world with his daughter as his guide. Over a six week period Kohner wove the stories she told into a novel, which he titled upon completion with her nickname, Gidget.
In the original novel, Gidget gives her name as follows:
“It’s Franzie,” I said. “From Franziska. It’s a German name. After my grandmother.” In the films in which she appears her name is changed to a more English sounding Frances Lawrence, and the names of some other characters are changed as well. In the 1960s television series Gidget gives her full name as Frances Elizabeth Lawrence.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the character Gidget (the prototypical beach bunny) was adapted for three films released by Columbia Pictures:
Gidget (1959), starring Sandra Dee.
Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), starring Deborah Walley.
Gidget Goes to Rome (1963), starring Cindy Carol.
Although the later two films were billed as sequels to the first, there was little attempt at continuity other than in the plot. Only James Darren, playing Gidget’s boyfriend Moondoggie, has the same major role in all three films. For Gidget Goes Hawaiian, some scenes from the first film were re-shot with the new cast, to be used as flashbacks.
In 1965, the character was adapted for television in the sitcom series Gidget, starring Sally Field. The series reintroduced Larue, a timid, awkward girl who often accompanied Gidget on her zany escapades, and an older married sister Anne Cooper (“Ann Cooper” in the novels), both of whom appear in the original 1957 novel but are absent from the motion pictures. Gidget’s brother-in-law, who appeared in the novels as Larry Cooper, an intelligent but condescending child psychiatrist was reinvented in the TV series as John Cooper, an obtuse but lovable psychology student. In the TV series, Gidget regarded both her sister and brother-in-law as clueless squares. In one of the first episodes, the producers sent Gidget’s boyfriend Moondoggie east to Princeton University with the convenient understanding that both were free to date others while separated, thus opening plots to a variety of complications and guest stars. The sitcom essentially focused on the father-daughter relationship with Gidget receiving moral instruction from her father at episode’s end and growing a little wiser from it. The sitcom ran for only one season, but spawned a devoted cult following.
In 1969, Karen Valentine starred as Gidget in the telemovie Gidget Grows Up, freely adapted from the 1968 novel Gidget Goes New York, but also functioning as a sequel to the 1965 sitcom series.
In 1972, another telemovie was made titled Gidget Gets Married, in which Gidget finally married longtime boyfriend Moondoggie. Monie Ellis played the title role. This incarnation of Gidget is unique in that it gives Moondoggie’s real name as “Jeff Stevens.” In the novels, the other telemovies and The New Gidget he is “Geoffrey H. Griffin” (the middle initial is mentioned only in the first novel); in the Hollywood films and the sitcom Gidget he is “Jeffrey Matthews.” Later that year, Hanna-Barbera produced a 60 minute animated feature for television, Gidget Makes the Wrong Connection, with Kathy Gori as the voice of Gidget.
In 1985, a follow-up of the 1965 sitcom series was launched with the telemovie Gidget’s Summer Reunion, starring Caryn Richman as a grown version of the character played by Sally Field. This was followed by a sitcom series The New Gidget, which ran for two seasons 1986–1988.
Gidget was spoofed in Charles Busch’s off-Broadway play (1987) and film (2000), Psycho Beach Party. The play was originally titled Gidget Goes Psychotic, but changed due to copyright concerns. In the original 1987 production, Charles Busch played the role of a Gidget-like beach teen, “Chicklet”. Deciding that he might not be believable on film in the role of a sixteen-year-old girl (“while I can still manage, with the aid of a sympathetic cameraman, to play a sophisticated 25, 16 would be a stretch”), he added and portrayed the character of Monica Stark to the film. Stark is a female police officer investigating a series of bizarre murders among the surfer crowd.
A Clip from the Sandra Dee movie Gidget
Opening from Sally Field’s TV show Gidget
Psycho Beach Party
By Charles Busch
Directed by Emily Ann Jablonski
Produced by David M. Moretti and Larissa Norris
Stage Managed by Chris Thorn
“Gidget”, Frankie and Annette beach party epics and Hitchcock psychological suspense thrillers such as “Spellbound” and “Marnie” are given a shotgun marriage. Chicklet Forrest, a teenage tomboy, desperately wants to be part of the surf crowd on Malibu Beach in 1962. One thing getting in her way is her unfortunate tendency towards split personalities. Among them is a black check out girl, an elderly radio talk show hostess, a male model named Steve and the accounting firm of Edelman and Edelman. Her most dangerous alter ego is a sexually voracious vixen named Ann Bowman who has nothing less than world domination on her mind.
Selected Dates June 3 – 18, 2011
Performance Location: Gunston Arts Center—2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206
Tickets are only $15 and you can purchase them ahead of time by clicking here.
For more information on the show or Dominion Stage, visit our website.