Aug 3, 2006

Dee Day

A model at twelve, an actress at fifteen, and a superstar at an age when most girls would have been thrilled to graduate high school: Sandra Dee seemed to have it all. After her popularity exploded in 1959 with teen classics Gidget and A Summer's Place, she married singing sensation Bobby Darin, her brassy, boorish co-star on 1961's Come September, at just eighteen - he claimed that the angered reactions his teasing produced were better than no reaction at all - and a year later, the couple welcomed their only child, son Dodd. But as the sixties wore on, offers for work waned and tensions arose at home; by 1967, both her career and her marriage were over. It seems she had barely been initiated into the halls of Tinseltown before she was crowned Queen of Teens and, soon after, Sandra Dee slipped gracefully away to retire in the annals of Hollywood history.

Despite the fact that her career spanned nearly thirty years, Dee appeared in but twenty-three films, lending her talents to an additional dozen television movies and guest appearances in the 1970's and 80's. Though most recall her as the sexually-stifled teenager in the weepy (but very dated) A Summer's Place, Dee shines in light comedies like Take Her, She's Mine opposite Jimmy Stewart and plays solidly in heavier fare - her performance in 1959's Imitation of Life shows impressive range for a seventeen-year-old. In terms of my childhood, she is warmly remembered as boy-crazy, surf-happy Gidget, before Sally Field's spunk re-ignited the Gidge character on television nearly a decade later, and as a young woman I relish her in roles opposite her real-life husband (Come September is definitely a giddy, guilty pleasure). Dee worked sporadically after wrapping her final films in the late 1960's, choosing instead to tend to her young son, particularly after ex-husband Darin died suddenly in 1973. Aside from two tiny television appearances in the 1990's, Dee, who never remarried, lived outside of the limelight for the second half of her life; she died of kidney disease in February of 2005.

For a woman whose career seems barely a whisper in the shadow of such legends as Greta Garbo and Bette Davis, it seems unthinkable that young Sandra Dee created a sensation and earned a legion of devoted fans with her wholesome beauty and scandal-free public life. Today, though, she remains a star, and, come September, she'll still have her place in the cinema firmament.

Check out the Sandra Dee Fans website for beautiful photographs, vintage magazine articles, and wonderful fan tributes to the incomparable Miss Dee.

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