Above: Kathy Kohner, the real Gidget (left), Sandra Dee as Gidget (upper right), and Sally Field as Gidget.
ON THIS DATE in 1941, Robert Heft and Kathy Kohner were born. At seventeen in 1958, Heft designed a 50-star U.S. flag. That same year seventeen-year-old Kohner appeared, slightly fictionalized, in her father’s popular novel, Gidget: The Little Girl With Big Ideas.
Heft’s flag adventure began when he added two stars to a 48-star banner as part of a class project in Lancaster, Ohio. His grade for the assignment? A B-minus. “You don’t even know how many states there are,” history teacher Stanley Pratt said, and he had a point — at the time, there were 49 U.S. states, not 50. Heft countered that Hawaii, then a U.S. territory, would surely become the fiftieth state. Fine, said his teacher. If Heft could get Congress to accept his 50-star flag design, the grade would be changed to an A.
Heft shipped his self-stitched 50-star flag to Ohio state senator Michael DiSalle, then to his congressman. On March 12, 1959, Congress voted to make Hawaii the 50th state. More than 1,500 flag designs were submitted to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but Heft’s flag, with its alternating rows of five and six stars, was the one chosen to represent the 50-state nation. In July of 1960, Heft traveled to Washington, D.C., and stood by the president as his 50-star flag was raised.
Frederick Kohner found the inspiration for his 1958 novel in his 4-foot-9-inch surf-crazy daughter whose nickname, Gidget, was a contraction of “girl” and “midget.” She grew up near the beach in Brentwood, California, with surfing buddies nicknamed Moondoggie, Bubblehead, and Tubesteak. Frederick Kohner wrote seven Gidget sequels and the character gained wider fame with a 1959 movie starring Sandra Dee, a 1961 sequel, and a 1965-66 TV series starring Sally Field.