‘Gidget’: The Forgotten Classic Sitcom That Launched Sally Field’s Career

by Craig Garrett

Many high-profile actors downplay their early careers, but Sally Field is always quick to credit Gidget for giving her a start. Running only one season from 1965 to 1966, Gidget can hardly be called a classic tv show. However, it did manage to catapult its lead to superstardom.

Created by author Frederick Kohner in 1957, Gidget followed the misadventures of a fifteen-year-old malibu surfer girl. The character was in fact based on the author’s own daughter. The novel Gidget spawned a series of films, tv shows, and tv movies. Even though the 60s tv series only lasted one season, Sally Field is perhaps still most associated with the character.

However, according to Field, it almost wasn’t so. “I had no idea what I would do after high school. I never even took the SAT, she told O, The Oprah Magazine in 2008. Unless it was a high school play, Field hadn’t pursued any acting roles. Instead, she went a less conventional route. She enrolled in night acting classes at a workshop for Columbia Pictures. “I must have known that a person could go to New York to study and become a real actress, but I couldn’t see that for myself,” Field said. 

Sally Field did have an ace up her sleeve, though. Her mother was an accomplished tv actor. She had appeared on shows like Perry Mason and Wagon Train. Field’s mother coached her through the audition process. “We did a piece from the Lillian Hellman play Toys in the Attic. It must have been horrible beyond belief! But I got in,” Field said. Eventually, casting agents came calling the young actor. When Sally Field finally went to a casting call, she was intimidated by the other talent.

“The waiting room was filled with girls who looked like movie stars, she told O, The Oprah Magazine. “They all had professional headshots; the only pictures I had were wallet photos of me with my friends.” However, the audition itself went smoothly. “But the casting director said, ‘You’re it.’ God was looking out for me. He thought he’d throw me in the ocean and see if I could swim.”

Of course, the rest is history. Sally Field’s role as Gidget led to another, decidedly different classic tv sitcom. She played the titular The Flying Nun from 1967 to 1970. Even such a high-concept role didn’t deter her from her career path, though. “The only thing I knew was that I had to keep acting,” Field told Oprah in 2008.

Since then, Sally Field has gone on to have a prolific acting career. She won an Academy Award for her lead role in 1985’s Places in the Heart. This year she has returned to her tv roots for HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.