Monday, February 21, 2005
Remembering Sandra Dee
They say that celebrities die in groups of three. If so, then this past weekend was a real case in point, claiming the lives of "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Broadway star and Bonnie's dad John Raitt, and movie actress Sandra Dee.
It is Sandra's death that strikes the deepest chord in me, because it stirs up so many childhood memories.
Since 1959 was considered one of her best career years, Sandra Dee pre-dates me significantly. But it didn't really seem that way when I was a young teen-ager watching her movies on The Late Show.
For those of you youngsters reading this, yes, there was a time when you couldn't simply trot down to the local Blockbuster and pick up the DVD of a movie that was just out in the theaters six months ago.
To satisfy your movie fix, you watched the Late Show on television. These were movies that aired after the 10 o'clock news. Sometimes there was even a late, LATE show.
Late-night movies on television were a huge part of my childhood and teen-aged years, especially on Friday nights and during the summers. My sister Lisa and I spent countless nights in front of the TV set, enjoying everything from musicals to film noir and everything in between. I really think this is where my love of movies really began.
I'll admit that Sandra actually annoyed me in the "Tammy" movies. Even as a young teen, I realized that they were horribly hokey, and I simply couldn't stand her awful attempts at a Southern accent.
But I watched anyway, transfixed by Sandra's ridiculously luminous beauty.
Probably my favorite Sandra Dee movie was "If a Man Answers." The main things I remember about this movie is that Sandra marries Bobby Darrin (as she did for a while in real life), and tries to "train" him using dog-training methods (which probably isn't as crazy as it sounds--in fact, it made some sense-- and Dee's amazing prettiness. In fact, the whole movie just seemed to be a vehicle expressly designed to showcase that prettiness in a succession of gorgeous outfits.
Susan Wloszczyna writes in a USA Today article: "In the flash-and-trash party-babe era of Britney and Paris, it's hard to imagine that a golden-haired paragon of feminine purity and guileless goodness such as Sandra Dee ever existed in Hollywood, let alone thrived."
Sandra Dee's characters did generally celebrate innocence and virginity. It was probably somewhat unrealistic even then, but it does make me sad that the times we live in are so radically different, with Britney Spears proudly proclaiming, "I'm not that innocent."
And even Dee's real life was a far cry from her rosy roles. Wloszczyna writes: "Sadly, the ingénue's sparkling optimism was all an act. At the height of her success, Dee was a pawn between two domineering forces. Her mother, Mary Douvan, lied about Dee's age so she could enter school early and pushed her into modeling and TV commercials. By the time she was 11, Dee was making $78,000 a year. She said she was sexually abused by her stepfather, a charge her mother denied."
Sandra Dee was only 62 when she died of kidney disease, and she hadn't been in the public eye for quite some time. So for me and others who enjoyed her lightweight but fun movies, she will always remain that luminous, youthful, sweet-voiced starlet.
And as with all celebrities who pass off the scene, I pray she made her peace with God before she died.