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Dee in 1961
April 23, 1942
Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||February 20, 2005 (aged 62)|
Thousand Oaks, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, California, U.S.|
|Other names||Sandra Douvan|
|Education||Hollywood Professional School|
(m. 1960; div. 1967)
Sandra Dee (born Alexandra Zuck; April 23, 1942 – February 20, 2005) was an American actress. Dee began her career as a child model, working in commercials before transitioning to film in her teenage years. Best known for her portrayal of ingénues, Dee earned a Golden Globe Award as one of the year's most promising newcomers for her performance in Robert Wise's Until They Sail (1958). She became a teenage star for her subsequent performances in Imitation of Life and Gidget (both 1959), which made her a household name.
By the late 1960s, her career had started to decline, and a highly publicized marriage to Bobby Darin (m. 1960–1967) ended in divorce. She rarely acted after this time, and her final years were marred by illness. She died in 2005 at age 62 of complications from kidney disease, brought on by a lifelong struggle with anorexia nervosa.
Dee was born Alexandra Zuck on April 23, 1942 in Bayonne, New Jersey, the only child of John Zuck and Mary (Cymboliak) Zuck, who met as teenagers at a Russian Orthodox church dance. They married shortly afterward, but divorced before Sandra was five years old. She was of Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry, and raised in the Russian Orthodox faith.
Her son, Dodd Darin, wrote in his biographical book about his parents, Dream Lovers, that Dee's mother, Mary, and her aunt Olga "were first generation daughters of a working class Russian Orthodox couple." Dee recalled, "we belonged to a Russian Orthodox Church, and there was dancing at the social events." Alexandra would soon take the name Sandra Dee. She became a professional model by the age of 4 and subsequently progressed to television commercials.
There has been some dispute as to Dee's actual birth year, with evidence pointing to both 1942 and 1944. Legal records, including her California divorce record from Bobby Darin, as well as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and her own gravestone all give her year of birth as 1942. In a 1967 interview with the Oxnard Press-Courier, she acknowledged being 18 in 1960 when she first met Bobby Darin, and the couple wed three months later. According to her son's book, Dee was born in 1944, but, having begun modelling and acting at a very young age, she and her mother falsely inflated her age by two years so she could find more work. Dee's parents divorced in 1950, and her mother then married a man who reportedly sexually abused Dee.
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Producer Ross Hunter claimed to have discovered Dee on Park Avenue in New York City with her mother when she was twelve years old. In a 1959 interview, Dee recalled that she "grew up fast", surrounded mostly by older people, and was "never held back in anything [she] wanted to do".
During her modeling career, Dee attempted to lose weight to "be as skinny as the high-fashion models", although an improper diet "ruined [her] skin, hair, nails—everything". Having slimmed down, her body was unable to digest any food she ate, and it took the help of a doctor to regain her health. According to the actress, she "could have killed [herself]" and "had to learn to eat all over again".
In spite of the damaging effects on her health, Dee earned a generous $75,000 in 1956 ($675,000 today) working as a 12 or 14-year-old model (see above) in New York, which she used to support herself and her mother after the death of her stepfather. According to sources, Dee's large modeling salary was more than she would later come to earn as an actress.
Ending her modeling career, Dee moved from New York to Hollywood in 1957. After studying at the Hollywood Professional School, she graduated from University High School in Los Angeles in June 1958. Dee's onscreen debut was in the 1957 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) film Until They Sail, directed by Robert Wise. To promote the film, Dee appeared in a December issue of Modern Screen in a column by Louella Parsons, who praised the young girl and compared her looks and talent to those of Shirley Temple. Her performance made her one of that year’s winners of the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress.
MGM cast her as the female lead in The Reluctant Debutante (1958), with John Saxon as her romantic co-star was, the first of several films they made together. She provided the voice for The Snow Queen (1957). Despite her newfound success, Dee continued to struggle with anorexia nervosa, which led to her kidneys temporarily shutting down.
In 1958, Dee was signed with Universal Pictures, and was one of the company's last contract players prior to the dissolution of the old studio system She had a lead role in The Restless Years (1958) for producer Ross Hunter, opposite Saxon and Teresa Wright. She followed this with another for Hunter, A Stranger in My Arms (1959).
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Her third film for Hunter had the biggest impact: Imitation of Life (1959), opposite Lana Turner. The film became a wild box office success. At the time, it was Universal Pictures's highest-grossing film in history, making Dee a household name.
Columbia Pictures borrowed her to play the titular role in the teenage beach comedy Gidget (1959), which was a solid hit, helping spawn the beach party genre and leading to two sequels, two television series and two television movies (although Dee did not appear in any of these). For a complete change of pace, Universal cast her opposite Audie Murphy in a Western romantic comedy, The Wild and the Innocent (1959), playing a tomboy. It was not particularly popular.
Warner Bros. borrowed her for another melodrama in the vein of Imitation of Life, A Summer Place (1959), opposite Troy Donahue as her romantic co-star. The film was a massive hit, and that year US box office exhibitors voted her the 16th most popular star in the country.
Hunter reunited her with Lana Turner and John Saxon in Universal's Portrait in Black (1960), a reasonably popular thriller. Dee was the nation's seventh biggest star at the end of 1960. Peter Ustinov used her as the lead in the Cold War comedy Romanoff and Juliet (1961); her romantic co-star was Universal's new heartthrob John Gavin, reuniting them from "Imitation of Life", in which her character had a crush on Gavin's, who played her mother's love interest.
Dee and Gavin played together again producer Hunter’s Tammy Tell Me True (1961), where Dee took over the Tammy role originated by Debbie Reynolds. It was popular; even more so was Come September (1961), where she worked with Bobby Darin in his major film acting debut (following a cameo in an earlier movie). She and Darin married after filming, on December 1, 1960.
In 1961 Dee still had three years on her Universal contract. She signed a new one for seven years.
The newlyweds Dee and Darin appeared together in the Hunter romantic comedy If a Man Answers (1962). She appeared in the final "Tammy" film, Tammy and the Doctor (1963). She had another big hit in the comedy Take Her, She's Mine (1963), playing a character loosely based on Nora Ephron. That year, she was voted the 8th biggest star in the country; it would be her last appearance in the top ten.
I'd Rather Be Rich (1964) was a musical remake of It Started with Eve, once again for producer Ross Hunter. She was reunited with Darin in That Funny Feeling (1965), then appeared in her last film at Universal under her contract with the spy comedy, A Man Could Get Killed (1966).
Decline and later roles
By the end of the 1960s, Dee's career had slowed significantly, and she was dropped by Universal Pictures. Dee rarely acted following her 1967 divorce from Bobby Darin. In a 1967 interview with Roger Ebert, Dee reflected on her experience in the studio system, and on the ingénue image that had been foisted on her, which she found constricting:
Look at this––[a] cigarette. I like to smoke. I'm 25 years old, and it so happens that I like to smoke. So out in Hollywood the studio press agents are still pulling cigarettes out of my hand and covering my drink with a napkin whenever my picture is taken. Little Sandra Dee isn't supposed to smoke, you know. Or drink. Or breathe.
She made a comedy at MGM, Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! (1967) which was a mild success. Ross Hunter asked her to come back to Universal in a co-starting role Rosie! (1968). The film was not a success. Dee was inactive in the film industry for several years before appearing in the American International Pictures occult horror film The Dunwich Horror (1970) as a student who finds herself in the center of a Satanic ritual plot.
Throughout the 1970s, Dee took roles sporadically on episodes of several television series, appearing in Night Gallery, Fantasy Island and Police Woman. Her final film performance was in the drama Lost (1983). In her later years, Dee told a Newark, New Jersey newspaper that she "felt like a has-been that never was."
Dee's adult years were marked by poor health, and she became a self-described recluse. She battled anorexia nervosa, depression, and alcoholism for many years. She quit drinking altogether after being diagnosed with kidney failure in 2000, attributed to years of heavy drinking and smoking.
Complications from kidney disease led to her death on February 20, 2005, at the Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California at the age of 62. She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills.
Dee's marriage to Bobby Darin in 1960 kept her in the public eye for much of the decade. They met while filming Come September, which was released in 1961. She was under contract to Universal Studios, which tried to develop Dee into a mature actress, and the films she made as an adult—including a few with Darin—were moderately successful. On December 16, 1961, she gave birth to a son, Dodd Mitchell Darin (also known as Morgan Mitchell Darin).
In 1994, Dodd Darin published a book about his parents, Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, in which he chronicled his mother's anorexia, drug and alcohol problems, and her claim that she had been sexually abused as a child by her stepfather, Eugene Douvan.
In popular culture
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- One of the popular songs of the Broadway musical and film Grease (1978) is "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee", in which the rebellious Rizzo satirizes new girl Sandra Dumbrowski (Sandra Dee Olson in the film) and her clean-cut image, likened to Sandra Dee's ("Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee / Lousy with virginity / Won't go to bed / Till I'm legally wed / I can't, I'm Sandra Dee!"). According to Stephen Blauner, Dee "always had a big laugh about it."
- Dee's life with Bobby Darin was dramatized in the film Beyond the Sea (2004), in which Kevin Spacey played Darin and Dee was played by Kate Bosworth.
- She is referenced in the Rodney Crowell song "I Ain't Living Long Like This" ("I live with Angel she's a roadhouse queen, makes Texas Ruby look like Sandra Dee")
- She is also referenced in the Badly Drawn Boy song "One Last Dance" ("To this day I'm lovin' you, we know what we wanna do. I am your Troy Donahue and you are my Sandra Dee")
- In the movie Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), a character mentions her by saying: "I took out an ad for Christ's sake. And I ended up with the Jewish Sandra Dee."
- The Mötley Crüe song Come On And Dance (1981) references her: "Electric love/Like Sandra Dee."
|1957||The Snow Queen||Gerda||Voice: English version|
|1957||Until They Sail||Evelyn Leslie|
|1958||The Reluctant Debutante||Jane Broadbent|
|1958||The Restless Years||Melinda Grant||Alternative title: The Wonderful Years|
|1959||A Stranger in My Arms||Pat Beasley||Alternative title: And Ride a Tiger|
|1959||Gidget||Gidget (Frances Lawrence)|
|1959||Imitation of Life||Susie (at age 16)|
|1959||The Wild and the Innocent||Rosalie Stocker|
|1959||A Summer Place||Molly Jorgenson|
|1960||Portrait in Black||Cathy Cabot|
|1961||Romanoff and Juliet||Juliet Moulsworth||Alternative title: Dig That Juliet|
|1961||Tammy Tell Me True||Tambrey "Tammy" Tyree|
|1961||Come September||Sandy Stevens|
|1962||If a Man Answers||Chantal Stacy|
|1963||Tammy and the Doctor||Tambrey "Tammy" Tyree|
|1963||Take Her, She's Mine||Mollie Michaelson|
|1964||I'd Rather Be Rich||Cynthia Dulaine|
|1965||That Funny Feeling||Joan Howell|
|1966||A Man Could Get Killed||Amy Franklin||Alternative title: Welcome, Mr. Beddoes|
|1967||Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding!||Heather Halloran|
|1970||The Dunwich Horror||Nancy Wagner|
|1971–72||Night Gallery||Ann Bolt
|1972||The Manhunter||Mara Bocock||Television movie|
|1972||The Daughters of Joshua Cabe||Ada||Television movie|
|1972||Love, American Style||Bonnie Galloway||Segment "Love and the Sensuous Twin"|
|1972||The Sixth Sense||Alice Martin||Episode: "Through a Flame Darkly"|
|1974||Houston, We've Got a Problem||Angie Cordell||Television movie|
|1977||Fantasy Island||Francesca Hamilton||Television movie|
|1978||Police Woman||Marie Quinn||Episode: "Blind Terror"|
|1983||Fantasy Island||Margaret Winslow||Episode: "Eternal Flame/A Date with Burt"|
|1994||Frasier||Connie (voice only)||Episode: "The Botched Language of Cranes"|
Box office rating
For a number of years, exhibitors voted Dee one of the most popular box office stars in the United States:
- Kashner & MacNair 2002, p. 268.
- Biography of Sandra Dee, biography.com; accessed August 14, 2014.
- Dee, Sandra (1991-03-18). "Learning to Live Again". People. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
- Darin 1994, pp. 27–30.
- Oxnard Press-Courier interview, interactive.ancestry.com; accessed May 9, 2014.
- Darin 1994, pp. 27-30.
- Kashner & MacNair 2002, p. 269.
- Lydia Lane, "Sandra Dee, Teen-age Beauty", The Palm Beach Post. p. 42.
- Brennan, Carol. "Sandra Dee Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
- "Sandra Dee". Golden Globes. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
- Kashner & MacNair 2002, p. 270.
- Quigley's Annual List of Box-Office Champions, 1932-1970 October 23, 2003 accessed July 9, 2012
- Staggs 2010, p. 154.
- "Sandra Dee signs new contract at U-I, July 19, 1961, Los Angeles Times.
- Merkin, Daphne (December 25, 2005). "Gidget Doesn't Live Here Anymore". The New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
- Ebert, Roger (November 5, 1967). "Beyond Miss Dee: Sandra Dee Grows Up". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
- Kashner & MacNair 2002, p. 274.
- Kehr, Dave (February 20, 2005). "Sandra Dee, 'Gidget' Star and Teenage Idol, Dies at 62". The New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2009.
- Marla, Lehner (February 20, 2005). "Screen Star Sandra Dee Dies". people.com. Retrieved December 28, 2015.
- Biography: Dodd Darin, imdb.com; accessed August 14, 2014.
- Interview with Sandra Dee https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wotn99LbFbw
- Son's book takes new look at Darin, Dee, articles.baltimoresun.com, December 14, 1997.
- "Mötley Crüe – Come On And Dance".
- Darin, Dodd (1994). Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-44651-768-3.
- Kashner, Sam; MacNair, Jennifer (2002). The Bad & the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-39332-436-5.
- Staggs, Sam (2010). "Pretty Baby". Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of Life. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-31260-555-1.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sandra Dee.|
- Sandra Dee – The Carpathian Connection
- Sandra Dee on IMDb
- Sandra Dee at the TCM Movie Database
- Sandra Dee at AllMovie
- Merkin, Daphne (December 25, 2005). "Gidget Doesn't Live Here Anymore". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
- Sandra Dee (March 18, 1991). "Learning to Live Again: A Former Teen Queen Shakes Free of Her Humiliating Past to End Years of Self-Hate and Loneliness". People Magazine. 35 (10). Retrieved September 7, 2017.
- Profile of Sandra Dee; accessed March 24, 2014.