Help bring a cultural icon home.
Surfer, motorcycle racer, artist, hep-cat and co-founder of The Royal Hawaiian Crowd Elimination Technique in Malibu, Billy al Bengston was one of the Malibu team members in the 1950s. who had all those beautiful green walls for him and his friends including Miki “Da Cat” Dora, Terry “Tubesteak” Tracy, Kemp and Denny Aaberg and a few Happy Fews digging the secret surf thrill of the 1950s.
More importantly, Bengston was a serious player in the art world – one of the most influential Californian artists to emerge from the 1950s to the 1960s – and is called by some “The West Coast Andy Warhol”.
On the night of November 28, surfer / ceramist = surferamician Cory Bluemling sent out an alarming AT RISK / MISSING PERSON (via the California Highway Patrol and local Malibu Carla Rowland) alerting the public that an 87-year-old man named Billy Bengston was reported missing in the Venice area.
Cory wondered if this was the same artist / surfer whose art was so influential in the mid-20th century and whose nickname inspired the character of James Darren in the 1959 film. Gidget.
Quick emails went around and there were replies from Kathy “Gidget” Kohner-Zuckerman,
“He lived on Mildred in Venice. Yes, it could be a photo of Billy Al and I haven’t seen it for a long time. Age would be correct about… is it real? “
And Phyllis “The Concrete Heiress” Tracy, wife of Tubesteak Tracy (RIP 1935 – 2018).
“Yes. I thought he lived in Venice. I hope he’s okay.
So Venice and age match, so this missing person is probably Billy Al Bengston from the surf world, and that’s a concern.
“So what?” you chuckle. “Who is this guy? What is it for me? How does this affect my trip?”
According to Wikipedia,
“Billy Al Bengston (born June 7, 1934 in Dodge City, Kansas) is an American artist and sculptor who lives and works in Venice, California and Honolulu, Hawaii. Bengston is a contemporary artist probably best known for his work that he created that utilizes radical California “Kustom Kar” and motorcycle culture. He used psychedelic colors and shapes that looked like mandalas. “
Everything is true, and the (2021 – 1934 = 87) corresponds to the age of the deceased Billy Bengston.
Enriching Wikipedia, there is this from the Getty.edu web page:
“Billy Al Bengston (b.1934) is a flamboyant figure who, from the late 1950s onwards, combined art with professional motorcycle racing and quickly became a key player in the Ferus Gallery circle. He had five solo exhibitions at Ferus from 1958 to 1963, as well as a major exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1968. Motorcycle imagery in several early works associated Bengston with West Coast Pop, as did its use. techniques and materials drawn from the culture of custom cars and motorcycles, while the polished surfaces he achieved with spray lacquer also linked him to the early designs of Finish Fetish.
Complete Fetish. From the 1950s and into the 1960s, Bengston was a crisp, clean-looking guy with a mustache who – like Bruce Brown and John Severson and other surfer artists of that era – dabbled in surfing and surfing. the motorbike and was inspired by these activities. to their art.
So what’s the connection between this real Moondoggie and the fictional character in the 1959 movie Gidget?
From Warshaw’s Surf Encyclopedia:
Moondoggie’s character was loosely based on Kansas-born Malibu surfer Billy Al Bengston, who later became an internationally renowned pop artist. Bengston is said to have taken his nickname from the blind American avant-garde composer Louis “Moondog” Hardin.
In the book, Moondoggie invents the name “Gidget” (a fusion of “dwarf girl”) and ultimately gives the cheerful teenager her class pin. Asked by Longboard Magazine in 1997 if there was in fact a romantic relationship between him and Kathy Kohner – the real Gidget and daughter of author Kohner – Bengston rejected the idea. “She brought sandwiches to the beach. We ate them.
Billy Al Bengston is 87 years old and although surfers like to think that our species is not prone to mental disabilities, as surfers spend their lives bathing their brains in adrenaline and endorphins and other sugary alcohols (See: Dick Metz, Mickey Munoz, Gidget) it’s possible Bengston suffers from some age-related mental fragility and wanders the streets of West Los Angeles.
Please be on the lookout and bring Moondoggie home.