Sandra Dee, an actress who starred in numerous teen films as the beautiful All-American girl next door, died on Feb. 20 of complications from kidney disease. She was 62.
Born Alexandra Zuck, the New Jersey native was still in elementary school when her mother pushed her into modeling. At 14, she signed a seven-year contract with Universal Studios and moved to California. By the time she made her screen debut in the 1957 movie “Until They Sail,” the studio had changed her name to Sandra Dee. Dee’s performance in that film earned her a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year.
During the 1960s, Dee achieved fame and fortune starring in more than a dozen teen movies, such as “Gidget,” “The Reluctant Debutante,” “The Restless Years” and “Tammy and the Doctor.” Young girls adopted Dee’s fresh-faced appearance and perky personality; teenaged boys viewed the starlet’s wide-eyed innocence as both charming and approachable.
Sixteen-year-old Dee and 24-year-old pop singer Bobby Darin dated for only a month before eloping in 1960. The couple made three films together (“Come September,” “If a Man Answers” and “That Funny Feeling”), and had a son, Dodd, before breaking up in 1967. Their divorce tarnished Dee’s clean-cut image and prompted Universal to drop her. She managed to land a few small film and TV roles in the 1970s, but for the most part, her career in Hollywood was over. In 1978, audiences were reminded of Dee’s former image when actress Stockard Channing sang “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” in the hit film “Grease.”
For most of her life, Dee struggled with anorexia and bulimia. She also abused drugs and alcohol, and suffered from chronic depression. Unable to find steady work in later years, these conditions only worsened. When her mother died in 1988, Dee stopped eating, dropped down to 80 pounds and spent three years as a shut-in. With Dodd’s aid and years of therapy, Dee was able to turn her life around.
In 1994, Dodd published a biography of his parents’ stormy marriage titled “Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee.” The couple’s relationship was also chronicled in the 2004 biopic “Beyond the Sea,” starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth.