In the book, she makes all the decisions about her own life as I said, including whether or not to have sex with a really cute surfer. In the movie, her boyfriend makes all the decisions about whether or not they’ll be together and I didn’t even think about that until I watched all the sequels and I kept waiting and it was always him breaking up with her and her waiting for him to come back to her. I thought Oh this is just a disaster and sad and scary in many ways. This really struck me, too. In the book, this is her conclusion. Her definition of who she is. “The summer with Jeff could have been just a dream, but with the board and the sun and the waves it was for real. Maybe I was just a woman in love with a surfboard. It’s a simple as that.” That’s literally the thesis of her own book. In the movie, it was getting pinned by her boyfriend which was the absolute ultimate moment in her life. I mean you can’t water it down any more than that. It fascinates me and yet this is mythology that is known about Gidget and it’s not her true story at all — which really makes me sad.
At this year’s 10th Annual Screenwriting Research Network Conference at Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand I presented…
“How Gidget Got Into the Girl Ghetto by Accident (and How We Can Get Her Out of it): Demoting Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas from Edgy Coming of Age Novel to Babe on the Beach Genre Film via Choices made in the Adaptation Process.”
It’ a long title, as I joke up front, but covers the process of adapting the true life story of Kathy Kohner (nicknamed ‘Gidget’ by the group of male surfers who she spent the summers with in Malibu in the 1950s) into the film and television series that are better remembered than the novel. The novel had been well-received upon publication, even compared to A Catcher in the Rye, but has mistakenly been relegated to the ‘girl ghetto’ of films. Some of the adaptations turned the focus away from the coming of age story of a young woman who gained respect for her talent at a male craft – surfing – and instead turned the focus far too much on Kathy being boy crazy.
Along the way I found interesting comparisons between how female writers treated the main character while adapting the novel and how male writers treated the character.
Dr. Rosanne Welch
Dr. Rosanne Welch teaches the History of Screenwriting and One-Hour Drama for the Stephens College MFA in Screenwriting.
Writing/producing credits include Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences, ABCNEWS: Nightline and Touched by an Angel. In 2016 she published the book Why The Monkees Matter: Teenagers, Television and American Pop; co-edited Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia; and placed “Transmitting Culture Transnationally Via the Characterization of Parents in Police Procedurals” in the New Review of Film and Television Studies. Essays appear in Torchwood Declassified: Investigating Mainstream Cult Television and Doctor Who and Race: An Anthology. Welch serves as Book Reviews editor for Journal of Screenwriting and on the Editorial Advisory Board for Written By magazine, the magazine of the Writers Guild.
Watch Dr. Welch’s talk “The Importance of Having a Female Voice in the Room” at the 2016 TEDxCPP.
The Screenwriting Research Network is a research group consisting of scholars, reflective practitioners and practice-based researchers interested in research on screenwriting. The aim is to rethink the screenplay in relation to its histories, theories, values and creative practices.