Around The Surfing World

Mr. Stratford Almost Goes To Hollywood

Remember Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

Well, I almost Went to Hollywood.

It all began when I did an article on the surfing documentary Hollywood Don’t Surf! and its premier at the Cannes Film Festival. The article was so riveting, so enthralling that it was picked up by such heavy hitters as Surfline and FuelTV.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Hollywood Don’t Surf!, it’s “a comedic romp examining fifty years of Hollywood surfing films.” From Gidget, to those dreadful Beach Blanket movies, to Big Wednesday and Blue Crush, Tinsel Town has never managed to get it right.

“So many Hollywood filmmakers have tried to capture the essence of surf culture on the big screen, only to be rebuffed by surfers and critics alike,” says Hollywood Don’t Surf! director/screenwriter Sam George.

Sam George interviews Frankie Avalon for "Hollywood Don't Surf!"

While it’s a fact that Hollywood hasn’t successfully brought the essence of the surf culture to film, they haven’t exactly been able to do it in other sports, either. Let’s face it: Hollywood doesn’t play golf or baseball either.

Well, as it turned out, Hollywood Don’t Surf! made big waves (yes, pun intended) at Cannes. I wrote a follow-up article, and then I decided to look into its stateside status. I’m milking this thing, baby. There are more stories here than surfers at my local break, almost.

Hollywood Don't Surf! crew at the Cannes Film Festival. Producer Chris Kobin is far right.

So I surfed over to Hollywood Don’t Surf!’s facebook page and inquired into the film’s stateside premier. They graciously replied immediately, stating that negotiations with distributors were happening “as we speak” and that there was the possibility of a private screening in Beverly Hills on Tuesday of the following week.

Well, because I am now such a bigwig fancy-dancy writer, having graced such websites as Surfline and FuelTV, I thought I might contact Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the original Gidget, who is featured prominently in the movie, and inquire if she might just be planning to attend the screening. Hey, there is yet another potential story here, as well.

Gidget replied: “I would LOVE to go. Can you get me three tickets?”

“Hey, no prob, Gidg,” I tell her. “I’m on it.”

Boy, is that some BS! C’mon, I’m a writer. From Jacksonville Beach, Florida, no less. How in heck’s name am I going to secure three tickets to a private Beverly Hills screening for an icon like Gidget?

Well, it just so happens, that, in the midst of contemplating this enormous dilemma, I get a facebook friend invite from Chris Kobin. I know that name, but this must be a joke. Chris Kobin is a producer for Hollywood Don’t Surf!. It’s got to be a joke.

It isn’t.

So I write a long-winded, fanny-kissing thank you note back to Chris, mentioning that I just so happen to know Kathy Kohner and I’m wondering if the Hollywood producer might be interested in having Gidget be in attendance at his private screening. And, oh yeah, by the way, would he be willing to cough up three tickets for her and friends?

Kobin replies: “Hey, thanks for contacting me, Marion. We have not yet set the screening date, but we would be thrilled to have both her and you there.”

Booiiinnng!

“Thrilled,” he said. “Thrilled…for me to be there.”  “There,” he said, meaning of course, the private showing in Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills, California. Swimming pools and movie stars.

So, while the rest of America was celebrating the Memorial Day weekend, I was now jostling my schedule for a flight to LA to rub shoulders with Gidget and the Hollywood Elite.

Or not.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make the screening, but I did catch up with Kobin and Gidget the following morning, which ironically was a Wednesday, a Big Wednesday. They were both “stoked” with the private screening. And as Chris related what had gone down at the screening, I was about to be really stoked, as well.

“I’m happy to say, last night more people showed up than we had planned on,” Kobin told me. “We even had to set up seats in the aisle.”

In what Kobin told me was a “relaxed, yet expectant and upbeat” mood, screenwriter Sam George and wife Nia Peeples, played hosts to a full house of a select group of distributors and special invitees who definitely liked what they saw.

“Totally excellent film!!!” said Patrick Landon

“Great job guys!!” added Ron Green. “Sweet! Loved it. Well done.”

That was very cool for Kobin, who, fortunately, liked what he saw, as well.

“I always stand or sit in the back of the room when showing a film I am working on, so I can look at people’s reactions,” he said. “And when the first group of comedic stuff came up in a survey of silly 1960s beach flicks, the laughs came loud and on cue. That feels like a signpost to me, and when people laugh early, I can relax slightly, knowing that the heavy hitters, Greg Noll and Gary Busey, are on their way with their commentary on surfers and filmmakers.”

As it turned out, Kobin wasn’t the only person watching from the back of the room. Also in attendance was Gidget, herself (thanks in part to your favorite Surfing Handbook surfwriter). And then George made a point of paying tribute to her at the screening’s conclusion.

Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, aka "Gidget" was the hit of the evening

“Sam had Kathy Kohner stand, after the screening, pointing out, quite rightly, that the ENTIRE genre of surf films can be traced to her decision to talk her dad into writing Gidget,” said Kobin. “Literally, everyone in the room was there because of the diminutive lady in the back of the audience. That was a cool moment.”

“It was pretty, pretty amazing,” Gidget told me. “Sam George introduced me to all. Kool! Thank you soooo much.”

While I never made it to Hollywood, I assured the “diminutive lady” that it was all, indeed, my pleasure. And although I wasn’t in attendance, I was basking in the glory of playing a small part in that “cool moment” from the previous night.

So, that’s… how I almost “Went to Hollywood.

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Marion Stratford

Marion Stratford is a freelance writer from Jacksonville Beach, Florida. A surfer for 45 years, he has covered surfing as a correspondent for the Florida Times-Union and is currently a National Surfing Examiner with Examiner.com.

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