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Classic TV

‘Gidget’ TV Show Cast: What Happened to the Stars of the 1960s Classic Comedy?

This show was just the beginning for Sally Field, who'd go on to become a multi Emmy and Academy Award-winner

Do you remember the Gidget TV show cast? Well those actors, and the show itself, found their inspiration in the 1957 novel Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas. Written by author Frederick Kohner, it was actually based on the adventures of his teenage daughter Kathy, and was adapted in the 1959 film Gidget, starring Sandra Dee in the title role.

It would be six years before the Gidget TV show cast would come together in what was designed to be a direct sequel to the film, although there wasn’t a lot of attention paid to continuity. The show, like the novel and film, focuses on surfing and boy-crazy teenager Frances Elizabeth “Gidget” Lawrence (future Academy Award and Emmy-winning actress Sally Field), living with her widowed father, Russell Lawrence (Don Porter), an English professor at UCLA. Other characters include Gidget’s older, married sister Anne Cooper (Benny Conner) and her husband, John (Pete Duel); Gidget’s best friend Larue Wilson (Lynette Winter) and Gidget’s boyfriend, Jeff “Moondoggie” Matthews (Stephen Mines).

The show only lasted a single season from 1965 to 1966, and while most of the Gidget TV show cast would have short-lived careers in Hollywood, the exceptions would be Don Porter and, of course, Sally Field.

Sally Field as Gidget

Sally Field,  then and now
Sally Field as Gidget in 1965 and at a 2023 eventGetty

Needless to say, of the Gidget cast, Sally Field has had the longest, most fulfilling career. She was born on November 6, 1946 in Pasadena, California. Things kicked off with Gidget and, as a newcomer, the Democrat and Chronicle wrote in September 1965, “Sally Field never acted professionally in her life before the Gidget show, but her interests and hobbies, which include swimming, surfing, basketball and reading, plus her alertness, make her perfect for the role of Gidget.”

Sally Field as Gidget, 1965
Sally Field as Gidget, 1965©ABC/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

The Pittsburgh Press offered up the following: “On the Gidget set recently, Sally Field was being fussed over by a hairdresser while being plastered with all that makeup so necessary for color filming. ‘Ever wear that much before?’ I asked the 18-year-old who plays the 15-year-old Gidget. ‘You kidding?’ she shot back with a semi-chuckle. ‘My parents wouldn’t even let me wear makeup.’

“It was the first thing she said and it kind of captured this youngster who has stirred up a. share of excitement already,” they added. “Three years ago, she said, the hunt was on for TV’s Gidget. Sally Field beat out 150 girls. How did this little rose from Pasadena do it? ‘Gidget was the kind of character I thought I’d like to be like,’ she said, ‘and I guess that showed up in the auditions.’ Even though she has the job locked up, she’s ‘still pretty scared. I get butterflies. I get the excited kind of scared. But on the beach, talking to all the boys, I forget to get scared.'”

Sally Field in The Flying Nun
Sally Field in The Flying Nun, 1967©Screen Gems Entertainment/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

Her confidence grew, but not to the point where she would completely stand up for herself, which became evident when she agreed to do her next series, The Flying Nun (1967 to 1970). It was a show she absolutely hated doing. “It just made no sense to me,” she said in retrospect. “It was just drivel. And people, when they hear me talk like that, they get very angry. You know, ‘I grew up with that, I loved it.’ Well, God bless you for that, but it was still drivel and nonsense.”

There would be one more TV series at the time in the form of The Girl with Something Extra (1973 to 1974), starring opposite John Davidson as a woman who has ESP abilities. This was definitely the last gasp in the genre of fantasy sitcoms that includes Julie Newmar‘s My Living Doll, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Nanny and the Professor. When it was over, Field took control of her life and career by studying at Lee Strasberg’s The Actor’s Studio.

Burt Reynolds and Sally Field in 1977's Smokey and the Bandit
Burt Reynolds and Sally Field in 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit©Universal Pictures/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

“I started to get some strength that I didn’t have before,” she said. “He could be devastating to people, but he was so important to me. He was definitely hard on me, but he did it at the right time. It was a way to shake me up enough to not get comfortable, even behind just the little bit of progress I’d made or confidence I had in my acting.”

And the shift was obvious, beginning in 1976 when she starred in the TV movie Sybil as a woman with dissociative identity disorder, which not only earned her critical acclaim, but an Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Special Program — Drama or Comedy. Well, everything moved on from there, to box office success opposite then-boyfriend Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and more critical acclaim for her title role in Norma Rae (1979), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. It would be Academy Award time again in 1984 for Places in the Heart.

Sally Field in Norma Rae
Sally Field in 1979’s Norma RaeGetty

Since then, she’s been in over two dozen movies between 1985’s Murphy’s Romance and 2023’s 80 for Brady; and there have been many TV appearances in movies, miniseries, guest appearances, recurring roles (most notably 12 episodes of ER) and with her being part of the main cast in The Court (2002), Brothers & Sisters (2006 to 2011) and Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (2022). There have also been stage appearances, including The Glass Menagerie (2004 and again in 2017) and All My Sons (2019). All told, it’s been a hell of a journey since Gidget.

Now 77, Field’s been married three times and has three children.

Don Porter as Russell Lawrence

Gidget TV show cast: Don Porter in 1953 and 1972
L-R: Don Porter in the 1953 to 1957 series Private Secretary, and in 1972’s The CandidateGetty

Don Porter was born on September 24, 1912 in Miami, Oklahoma. Claiming that he was 18, he joined the Oklahoma National Guard when he was actually 14, and served as a combat photographer during World War II while appearing in training films.

When he was 17, he started working in radio and, in 1936, appeared on stage for the first time, ultimately doing so in more than 200 different shows. Between 1939’s Mystery of the White Room and 1985’s Joey, he appeared in more than three dozen films. He starred in the television series Private Secretary (1953 to 1957), The Ann Sothern Show (1959 to 1961) and, of course, Gidget. After the show, he made numerous guest star appearances on different series with recurring roles on The Bionic Woman (1976 to 1977) and Dallas (1980).

Private Secretary
DVD package for episodes of 1953 to 1957’s Private Secretary©Jack Chertok Television Productions/IMDb

In an interview with the Daily News-Post on July 17, 1965, he commented, “I am waging a one-man war against the weak father image. I am against American fathers being portrayed as boobs, and Gidget’s dad is definitely not going to be one.”

He was married to actress Peggy Converse from 1944 until his death on February 11, 1997 at age 84. Next to Sally Field, he had the most extensive career amongst the Gidget TV show cast.

Betty Conner as Anne Cooper

Gidget TV show cast: Sally Field, Don Porter and Betty Conner, 1965
Sally Field, Don Porter and Betty Conner, 1965©ABC/IMDb

There isn’t a lot out there about Betty Conner’s life and career, though it is known that she was born May 31 1930. Her acting career was a short one, beginning with an episode of Mister Ed in 1962 and continuing with appearances on Wendy and Me, Gunsmoke, Gormer Pyle, USMC; The Young Marrieds and Clint Eastwood‘s Rawhide, with Gidget to follow.

In September 1965, the Democrat and Chronicle offered up a profile, noting, “Pretty green-eyed Betty Conner is a young lady of varied interests. Betty, who began her acting career at the age of 12 when she originated a children’s series on TV in her hometown of Lufkin, Texas, is an avid sports enthusiast. She’s studying ballet and voice and is a collector of early Spanish California antiques. Miss Conner possesses an enviable collection of pre-1800 furniture.”

Cast of Gidget
Cast of Gidget (1965 to 1966), L-R: Sally Field, Don Porter Betty Conner and Peter Duel©ABC/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

Added The Charlotte News at around the same time, “Betty’s father worked for an oil company and they traveled all over the country. She lived in Greenville, S.C., for six months. ‘Those were rough years,’ she said. ‘I’d go to 10 or maybe even 20 schools in a single year.”

By all reports, she retired from acting when Gidget ended, and started working for TD Bank. Married to Frank Conner, she died at the age of 91.

Pete Duel as John Cooper

Of the Gidget TV show cast, Peter Duel's life was the most tragic
Peter Duel in 1965 and 1971, shortly before his deathGetty

Peter Ellstrom Deuel (who later changed his name to Duel) was born on February 24, 1940 in Rochester, New York. He was another actor with a short-lived career. He made his TV debut in a 1963 episode of Channing, and followed it with Combat!, Gomer Pyle, USMC, Mikey, Twelve O’Clock High and The Fugitive. He followed Gidget with some guest appearances on different shows, and was a regular on Love on a. Rooftop (1966 to 1967) and Alias Smith and Jones (1971 to 1972). Tragically, while having a difficult time dealing with his drinking problem, on New Year’s Eve 1971 he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was only 31.

Lynette Winter as Larue Wilson: Gidget TV Show Cast

Lynette Winter and Sally Field of the Gidget TV show cast
Lynette Winter and Sally Field in Gidget, 1965-1966©ABC/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

Lynette Winter was born on June 17, 1946 in Los Angeles and had a relatively short career in Hollywood. She made her TV debut in a 1958 episode of Highway Patrol, followed two years later by The Real McCoys. After Gidget, she was in episodes of My Three Sons, Family Affair and Petticoat Junction.

The Kokomo Morning Times wrote of her in February 1966, “Lynette is no newcomer to show business. She has been doing teenage character parts for some time. She was born in Texas while her father, a Navy man, was stationed at Corpus Christi. Although her parents moved to San Diego when she entered grammar school. Lynette has been acting since her earliest childhood. At 9 she was working as a pantomimist with a local USO troupe.

“In 1956,” they added, “she was signed by a talent agent for the stage production of the Bad Seed. She gained valuable experience in this and a number of other stage productions … She is a real ‘pro’ in front of the cameras, playing the ludicrous ‘Larue’ to the hilt. The part calls for a teener with all the worst possible problems, for example a disastrous allergy to sun and sand; and Lynette gives it her all.”

Lynette Winter and Sally Field, 1965
Lynette Winter and Sally Field, 1965©ABC/IMDb

The Anniston Star elaborates, “She never wanted to play pretty girl roles. She’d rather be the kooky-girl type, which is her role on Gidget. Supporting roles are the best parts, the way to cut your teeth in drama. ‘Some people don’t like to play people who aren’t very good, very pretty or very virtuous,’ she explains. In her TV role, she’s supposed to be unattractive to boys, and she’s made to look it, sometimes by the way they tease her hair … or coat her with mud … lemon, oatmeal and peanut butter on her face. ‘Even when I play a beach scene, I’m in an unattractive sweat shirt, because I’m supposed to be allergic to the sun. I’m supposed to get hives just being around boys, and of course I always lead when I dance with them.'”

By all accounts, she is teacher at La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego, California, and occasionally acts in regional theater. Like many of the members of the Gidget TV show cast, her career was short-lived.

Stephen Mines as Jeff “Moondoggie” Matthews: Gidget TV Show Cast

Gidget TV show cast: Stephen Mines played the boyfriend of Gidget
Stephen Mines in 1965 and again in 2004IMDb (2)

Stephen Mines, who rounds out this look at the Gidget TV show cast, was born on February 3, 1939 in Muskegon, Michigan. His TV credits prior to Gidget include episodes of Bronco, 87th Precinct, The Lieutenant (created by Star Trek‘s Gene Roddenberry), Mr. Novak and Paradise Bay. Following the show, he was on the soap operas As the World Turns (as Dr. Paul Stewart #3) and Days of Our Lives (as David Martin); as well as episodes of The Big Valley and Dan August. In 1970 he began his own woodworking business in Los Angeles, which he ran for 33 years, then moving to Michigan where he operated a small woodworking shop for the next 14 years. He died on May 21, 2019 at the age of 80.

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