By Jason KUROSU
Gidget, the young surfer created by Frederick Kohner in his 1957 novel of the same name, spawned a phenomenon resulting in five sequels, a popular television series starring Sally Field and three movies, in which Gidget was portrayed by three separate actresses. While Gidget took off in popularity and remains an iconic figure of the surf culture of the 1950s and ‘60s, many may be surprised to discover that she was inspired by an actual person – Kohner’s daughter, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman.
Veteran screenwriter and playwright Ken Lazebnik profiles Kohner-Zuckerman in his book “Hollywood Digs,” a collection of 14 essays detailing the fates of Hollywood notables. Both Lazebnik and Kohner-Zuckerman will be on hand at the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse on Sept. 28 from
3 P.m. to 5 p.m., available both to discuss and sign the book.
After publishing an essay on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tenancy in an Encino estate owned by character actor Edward Everett Horton 10 years prior, Lazebnik decided to put together some more nuggets of obscure Hollywood history into what became “Hollywood Digs.”
While teaching at Pepperdine University, Lazebnik found the inspiration for one of his 14 essays less than five miles away at Duke’s Malibu, the ocean front restaurant dedicated to surfing legend Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
Kohner-Zuckerman, now married with two children, makes appearances at Duke’s twice a week, meeting with the public as the inspiration for Gidget and as a continuing member of the surfing community.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Lazebnik. “Not only that she’s real, but that she’s right down the street at Duke’s!”
Lazebnik’s essay on Kohner-Zuckerman examines the strange dual life she’s had as both herself and the fictionalized version of herself.
“She says that people frequently come up to her and express surprise that she’s not a fictional character,” said Lazebnik. “My essay explores that circumstance and how it has affected her; she has had a fictional doppelgänger that has existed alongside her, both her and not her. And that fictional Gidget was written by her father, an intellectual Jewish émigré from Eastern Europe. Part of my essay marvels at how this middle-aged intellectual was able to so effectively capture the language and feel of a teenage girl in Southern California.”
Lazebnik’s book follows the lives of numerous other Hollywood figures, both household names and “people whose fame is in danger of disappearing.”
Among them are the stories of recently deceased painter Thomas Kinkade, about whom Lazebnik penned the screenplay for a biographical movie, “Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage.” The book also features the story of Jock Mahoney, stuntman and 13th actor to portray Tarzan, whose career faltered after contracting dysentery, dengue fever and pneumonia in the jungles of Thailand while shooting “Tarzan’s Three Challenges.”
“I have always been attracted to stories of the little guy, and so some of my favorite pieces are about these slightly obscure figures whose memories are quickly being lost in the haze of history,” he said.