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The International Writers Magazine: California Lives

How We Met 'Gidget'.
David Russell
To celebrate my wife’s umteenth birthday, our family did Sunday Lunch at Duke’s Restaurant in Malibu and there she was, the real Gidget.


Her name is Kathy Kohner Zuckerman and it was her diary that the best selling book and hit movie “Gidget” were based, written by her father, Frederick Kohner, a Hollywood Film writer.

In 1954, when Kathy was 13, Frederick took the family to Europe where he was to work on a movie.  A year+ later, when they returned home, Kathy found it difficult to relate to her Pacific Palisades peers. At her mother’s suggestion, she started going to the beach, where she became enthralled watching the surfer boys at their daily play. Kathy saved up and bought her
own board, then determinedly taught herself to surf, joining the wave riding crowd.

Her diary noted that June 24, 1956 was the date of her first surf-board ride. At the time, the beachies all had nicknames. Kathy, a demure 5’1”, became “Gidget.”  That was the day she began to write a daily diary entry for each day at the beach, not only the surfing, but about the surfers and their relationships, including her own teen infatuations.

So long before there were the Beach Boys, before Frankie Avalon and Sandra Dee had their film beach romance, and Sally Fields her TV portrayal, years earlier there really was a “Gidget”, living the life that was to be played out in the movie.

Now in her senior years, Kathy no longer rides the waves. When not involved with Marvin, her retired College Professor husband or her two sons, she hostess’ at Duke's, a restaurant with a surfer theme based on the restaurant chain’s namesake, Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian credited with raising surfing to a popular sport. Duke was also a five-time swimming Olympic medalist.

I think what Kathy loves most about Duke’s is that guests who see her “Gidget” book for sale in the lobby, often share their own beach guy or girl memories. Zuckerman gladly signs each book and when prompted still can recall a tale or two from “the ‘Bu.”

When they first began to date, Kathy revealed to her Professor husband that she was the real Gidget.  He asked, “What’s that?”

The Zuckermans still live in the Pacific Palisades, for 35 years my home town. For those unfamiliar with Los Angeles coastal communities, the Palisades is two miles North of Santa Monica and five miles South of Malibu and offers a large stretch of sandy surfer beach. Our year round mean temperature is 70 degrees and we have waves that provide an envious ride.
Come visit.
© David Russell May 2011

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