…and yet we don’t read books about a girl’s coming of age and Gidget turns out to be just such a thing. About a woman who goes to the beach to learn a skill. Yes, she meets some boys along the way and, of course, she finds one or two of them handsome, but she also makes choices about whether or not to have sex and that is a huge moment in the coming of age of a girl. Nobody takes advantage of her which tends to be the way the story goes. She makes the choices and the men respect her for it and thought that was fascinating when I read this book. So, Hollywood gets a hand of this book and they have to do something with it. They have to make it silly. So, in the real world, this is what she has to say. This book is all about how much she loves surfing and that’s a picture of the real Kathy Kohner back in the day with her surfboard. That is how she identified herself. We get to the movies and this is some typical dialogue. Yeah, the cringing can start at any time.
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.