Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sandra Dee

I mentioned Bobby Darin in my last post, and I've been thinking ever since about my love-love relationship with his angel-faced first wife, the late Sandra Dee. In my generation, her first and last names are so far past synonymous with the Grease soundtrack-- a situation I find problematic. Not that I don't like Grease. Not that I don't agree with the Boris-Karloff-and-Frankenstein attitude of some celebrities that it is far, far nobler in the mind to be thankful for having a career defining, iconic role that sticks out in people's minds than to be a nasty naysayer about how "limited" your career is by said role. However, the song "Sandra Dee" to the actress Sandra Dee must've been like reading your own, unflatteringly misguided obituary twenty years too soon. If you're going to get at me for something, make sure you have your facts straight, boyo. Take a look:

"Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee/Lousy with virginity/Won't go to bed 'til I'm legally wed/I can't; I'm Sandra Dee...As for you Troy Donahue,/I know what you wanna do/You got your crust/I'm no object of lust/I'm just plain Sandra Dee"

The singsongy nasality of the lyrics are bad enough-- the fact that they pegged my poor cotton candy haired vedette as a Frigidaire queen is just...plain...unfair. I know the wholesome, Annette Funnicello kind of 60's entertainment we're talking about, the kind that hide navels in improbably high waistbands of bikini bottoms and ignore sex altogether. I also know Sandra Dee has made some well nigh unwatchable movies, and they have that same cheap, cardboard quickie look that a lot of light entertainment did in the late fifties' and early sixties'. For the most part of her early career, SD was playing someone's willful, spritely daughter, lacking confidence in her own identity as fifteen year olds are wont to be, but also sexually curious, as fifteen year olds are wont to be. How exactly does this whole boy-girl thing work? What'll I do if he kisses me? Do boys like girls who go all the way? How do you keep from getting in trouble? These aren't exactly archaic questions, and they certainly don't bespeak any particular aversion to the male of the species.

While Sandra Dee's movies are emphatically about not being able to have sex, the girl is no poster child for abstinence. She spends most of her on screen time coyly asking her parents about pre-marital relationship consummation, getting rebuffed, and obliquely having sex anyway to more or less positive results. Because we're young! Because we're different than our parents! She's not at all a prude. Sandra Dee's movies are NEVER about trying NOT to have sex but merely being young and curious and being told to be strait-laced for no apparent reason. The narrative themes in her films run along the lines of "why shouldn't we, don't you think we should" rather than "we'd better not, oh, we'll get in trouble"-- a distinction that seems lost on the songwriters from ye olde Grease. If you can watch her scenes in A Summer Place and still think Sandra Dee's about NOT about sex-- well, I don't know what to tell you.

It's strange to think about the deluge of publicity that surrounds movie stars in a bizarre cocoon of innocuousness until years and YEARS later things start to come out about the "real" person behind the celebrity. Sandra Dee appeared in fifteen magazines a month at the height of her popularity, and yet practically every word written about her was false, a press agent's idea of "creative spin".

What I remember off the top of my head about Sandra Dee is mostly from her son Dodd Darin's memoir/dual biography of his parents, Dream Lovers. He talks about his mother's sexual abuse from her stepfather at 8 (a creepy, in-family "joke" about how her stepfather married her mother "to get Sandy" is repeated in one late 50's fluff piece, as if it was at all cute), her first modeling jobs at 10 (which, owing to a early developing figure, cast her as 15), her discovery as a screen star (around the age of 14, nobody's sure because her stage ambitious mother constantly lied about Sandra's age to get her older, better paying roles), and her contract-breaking marriage after an on-set love affair to the swinging-est of late 50's crooners, one Bobby Darin. She suffered from anorexia and alcoholism most of her life, and yet she's the very picture of the "perfect teenager" of the perfect late 1950's. Does this girl look like she has any problems?

Some clippings from around the web, mostly from the exhaustive Sandra Dee Fans website.


  1. wonderful beautiful Sandra Dee....from my youth.

  2. wonderful beautiful Sandra Dee....from my youth.

  3. would like to see all the Sandra dee magazine articles again



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