A college professor of mine, a man deeply immersed in pop culture history, sent me, just this morning, a charmingly-written mini-profile of Kathy Kohner, the inspiration behind Gidget.
You know the story, right? In 1957, Kohner’s father, Frederick Kohner, took a breezy six weeks to write a beach-reading novel about his daughter’s golden-tinged summers learning to surf and love at Malibu.
The novel, Gidget, sold half a million copies and is probably at least partially responsible for the great deluge of inlanders flocking to the surf in the early 60s.
Actually, the Gidget movie, which came out in 1959, is probably more to blame, or to praise, for surfing’s explosion, depending on your mood.
Anyway, the movie actually debuted this week in 1959, and just as I was trying to decide if there’d be anything to write about it this week–boom. This article appears in my inbox revealing that Kohner’s been working as a hostess at Duke’s in Malibu for many, many years! In her mid-70s!
She’s an “Ambassador of Aloha.” A lovely title. Kohner spends a couple shifts per week charming guests, and who wouldn’t be thrilled to be shown to their table at a beachside Malibu restaurant by Gidget herself?
The article is terrific, as is this excerpt below.
Kathy comes in for two shifts a week: Sunday morning for brunch, and at night on Taco Tuesdays. Taco Tuesdays are more casual, and typically she wears slacks. For brunch, Kathy likes to gussy up a bit. When I visited her, she was dressed like a parrot. Her dress was covered in a bright floral pattern and she wore magenta lipstick. The tropical bird-like glamour was accentuated by her incessant motion and flirtatious behavior with guests.
Kathy’s co-workers are mostly Pepperdine University students, but she assures me they treat her like an equal. “I feel when I go to that restaurant, I’m extended family,” she said. “There’s no, sort of, ‘Oh my God, how old is this woman? She doesn’t even know how to work her mobile phone!'”
People ask to take photographs with her multiple times per day. “I feel like saying, ‘a dollar,'” she jokes. “It’s a great story, I’m alive and well, girls are surfing,” she says of her micro-celebrity. “Where else could Gidget be but at Duke’s?”
Where else indeed?
Read the whole thing here.