On this day in Connecticut history, actress Deborah Walley was born in Bridgeport in 1941. With nationally famous ice skaters and choreographers Edith and Nathan Walley as her parents, young Deborah caught the show business bug at an early age, performing on the ice with her parents for the first time at the age of three. She soon expressed a preference for acting over choreography, and enrolled in New York City’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts as a teenager.
Walley’s first big film breakthrough was the 1961 summer hit Gidget Goes Hawaiian, a sequel to the popular 1959 film Gidget starring teen sensation Sandra Dee. The film’s producers were originally concerned that the film might bomb owing to Dee being replaced with a relatively unknown actress, but audiences loved Walley and the film was a smash hit at the box office. Walley was even named Photoplay magazine’s Most Popular Actress of 1961.
Gidget Goes Hawaiian launched Walley’s career as an actress who specialized in ingenue-style roles, and she went on to star in a number of comedies and beach-themed films over the next few decades. In addition to starring opposite Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in Beach Blanket Bingo and Elvis Presley in Spinout, Walley starred in the hit 1974 film Benji — one of many Disney-related roles she held throughout her show-business career. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, she also enjoyed several high-profile cameos in popular TV shows like Wagon Train, The Virginian, and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. Even as Walley’s on-screen presence diminished in the 1980s, she maintained a productive relationship with Disney, where she occasionally worked as a writer and voice actor. In 2001, she passed away at the age of 59 from esophageal cancer.
Myrna Oliver, “Deborah Walley; Actress Starred in ‘Gidget,’ Beach Films,” Los Angeles Times