How Sally Field unexpectedly landed Gidget, and how it was much more than a career-launcher

Before she was a two-time Oscar and three-time Emmy Award winner, Sally Field played the beach-loving, outgoing and eager teenager on Gidget. Field landed her "big break" role at the age of 18, but it was an unorthodox way of getting it.

Field graduated from Birmingham High School, located on the outskirts of Los Angeles in the Van Nuys neighborhood. It’s where her acting career was born, playing various roles in the school’s drama department, sparking her interest to pursue an acting career after graduation. At least, that’s what she hoped for.

In a 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Field said there wasn’t really a plan following Birmingham.

"I had no idea what I would do after high school. I never even took the SAT."

Field didn’t pursue acting that wasn't high school related until after graduating. It all began when she attended an evening acting workshop at Columbia Pictures. Field knew if there would be a route to the big screen, this would be it, even though there were more traditional ways to break into the industry.

"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.

Field’s mother, Margaret, appeared in popular shows such as Perry Mason, Bonanza and Wagon Train, among others. Margaret accompanied Sally to the workshop, and helped her audition. 

"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 told O that on the first night of her workshop a casting agent approached asking if she had an agent. Though she didn’t have one, Field went on the interview nonetheless, feeling a little out of place when she entered.

"The waiting room was filled with girls who looked like movie stars. They all had professional head shots; the only pictures I had were wallet photos of me with my friends. At my screen test, I walked in and said, 'which one is the camera.' 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."

Field said she loved every minute of her time on Gidget. Though it lasted just one season, it would open another door for Field, leading to a very successful career in Hollywood.

Gidget did much more than launch a career for Field, though. It kept her going. According to a 2018 ABC News article, she had a childhood of "dark uncertainties, including abuse at the hands of her stepfather."

Acting was a way for Field to be herself and escape the troubling household she was living in, ultimately giving her the push to audition for the acting workshop at Columbia Pictures. It all started in high school.

According to a CBS News article from 2010, Field "recalled that the school’s drama department 'quite simply saved my life' and was the place she could 'most truly and absolutely’ be herself."

So while Field didn’t know she would land the lead role on Gidget, which led to her starring as Sister Bertrille in The Flying Nun, one thing was for certain.

"The only thing I knew was that I had to keep acting," Field told Oprah.