Sandra Dee was a Golden Globe Award winning American actress. Beginning her career with commercials and print modelling as a child, Sandra entered the film industry in her teenage years. Her mother dreamed of a successful career for her in the entertainment industry and Sandra had all it took to fulfill her mother’s dream. She soon became one of the top models of her time and in order to survive in the modelling world, she slimmed down significantly, almost starving herself to death, and eventually succumbed to life-long Anorexia Nervosa. However, her film career continued to flourish and she became famous for her performance in the movies ‘Gidget’ and ‘Imitation of Life’. She married the famous singer, Bobby Darin, in her youth, and they gained much limelight until the celebrity couple decided to part ways after six years. Sandra continued her career as an actress after her divorce but began struggling with several illnesses and finally in 2005 she passed away owing to a kidney disease.
Childhood & Early life
Sandra was born Alexandra Zuck in 1942 at Bayonne, New Jersey, to Mary and John Zuck. Her parents divorced when she was a child; she lived with her mother and was brought up in Russian Orthodox faith.
Since she had stunning looks, she began modelling at the age of four and appeared in commercials for big brands such a Coca-Cola. Her mother remarried while she was still young. Unfortunately, Sandra was sexually abused by her stepfather in childhood.
She attended Hollywood Professional School while juggling her career and ended up graduating from ‘University High School’ in Los Angeles.
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Early Career in Modelling
By twelve, she was an established model. Ross Hunter, an actor and producer, spotted her along with her mother at Park Avenue. Offers came rolling in soon after and she became one of the top teen models of America.
With time she became more conscious of her appearance and in order to align with the stereotypical ways of models, she began slimming down. She would almost starve herself, which led to several skin, hair and nail related problems.
Having lost weight, her body couldn’t digest the food she consumed. Hence, she was put on medication. This episode ushered in an immutable eating disorder, Anorexia Nervosa.
However, despite her bad health she managed to earn around seventy five thousand dollars annually as a model and continued to support her mother.
In order to pursue a career in films, she moved from New York to Hollywood in 1957. She landed her first role as a voice actor in the animated film ‘The Snow Queen’ voicing the character ‘Gerda’ in the English version of the movie.
In 1957, she also starred in her first motion picture ‘Until they Sail’ alongside Jean Simmons, Joan Fontaine and Paul Newman. In 1958, she played the 17 year old Jane Broadbent in the comedy film ‘The Reluctant Debutante’.
Sandra joined the league top of the Hollywood fraternity actors in a few years. In the movie ‘The Restless Years’, she played the lead role of Melinda Grant opposite John Saxon.
In 1959, she was cast as Pat Beasley in the drama film ‘A Stranger in My Arms’ alongside June Allyson and Jeff Chandler. The same year, she put up stellar performances as young Susie in ‘Imitation of Life’, Frances Lawrence in ‘Gidget’ and Rosalie Stocker in ‘The Wild and the Innocent’.
She also starred in the films ‘A Summer Place’, ‘Portrait in Black’ and ‘Romanoff and Juliet’. In 1961, she was signed for Harry Keller’s ‘Tammy Tell Me True’ opposite John Gavin, and in Robert Mulligan’s romantic comedy ‘Come September’.
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A Leading Actress
In 1962, she played the role of Chantal Stacy in Henry Levin’s comedy film ‘If a Man Answers’ opposite Bobby Darin. The following year, she was signed for the lead role of ‘Tammy’ in the rom-com ‘Tammy and the Doctor’.
The 1963 film ‘Take her, She’s Mine’ featured Sandra alongside legendary actor James Stewart,and the film became a box office sensation. It was followed by an outstanding performance as Cynthia Dulaine in the musical comedy ‘I’d Rather Be Rich’.
For the next couple of years, she peaked her career with lead roles in the film ‘That Funny Feeling’, ‘A Man Could Get Killed’, ‘Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding!’ and David Lowell Rich’s film ‘Rosie’.
After divorcing her husband, her career gradually declined. From 1967 to 1970, she disappeared from the industry only to return to films with the horror movie ‘The Dunwich Horror’ by ‘American International Pictures’.
However, the offers that followed were guest appearances in television shows with a couple of roles in Television movies. In 1971, she guest starred in two episodes of the TV series ‘Night Gallery’.
In 1972, she starred in two television films called ‘The Manhunter’ and ‘The Daughters of Joshua Cabe’, and also appeared in the TV series ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘Houston, We’ve Got a Problem’.
She played her last lead role in a low budget Al Adamson movie ‘Lost’ in 1983 and made an appearance as a voice artist on the TV show ‘Frasier’ in the episode ‘The Botched Language of Cranes’.
Through her later years, she battled with throat cancer owing to years of drinking and smoking; as well as depression, anorexia nervosa and kidney failure.
Her performance in the movie ‘Imitation of Life’ was highly acclaimed. Critics ranked it as the fourth in the list of best films of 1959. It grossed a whopping 6.4 million dollars and was Universal Studio’s most successful film until the release of the 1967 film ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.
The movie ‘Gidget’ is recollected as her best performance as a teenager. Critics stated that the role of a 16 year old with teenage problems was portrayed impeccably by Sandra Dee. In fact, the movie led to a “Miss Gidget” beauty contest.
Awards & Achievements
Sandra Dee was nominated for several awards during the early years of her career, and she won the ‘Most promising Newcomer – Female’ in 1958 at the prestigious ‘Golden Globe Awards’.
In 1959, she won the ‘Top Female New Personality’ at the ‘Golden Laurel Awards’ and was also nominated for the ‘Top Female Star’ and ‘Top Female Comedy Performance’ from 1960 to 1967
Personal Life & Legacy
Dee married her ‘Come September’ co-star Bobby Darin in 1960. The following year, on 16th December she delivered their son, Dodd Mitchell Darin. However, trouble began six years after their marriage.
By 1967, the couple divorced and Bobby remarried the next year. Their separation left Sandra depressed, and with the death of Bobby Darin in 1973, she could hardly focus on her career.
After suffering from major complications from an existing kidney disease, she passed away at the age of 62 on 20th February 2005. She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery at Hollywood Hills.
She began her modelling career with the ‘Girl Scouts’ magazine.