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Summer Movies Starring Siren Sandra Dee

It’s finally Summer. And what says Summer more than a 60s beach movie like Gidget? The sunny fare includes romance, lovely and robust teenagers dancing in the sand to the sounds of surf music, and the freshest of oceans in the background.

Let’s take a look at one of the stars of the genre.

Sandra Dee was born in 1942 in Bayonne, New Jersey, to Russian Orthodox parents who divorced when she was four years old. A beautiful child, she was a professional model at that age, quickly moving on to TV commercials.

Her mother remarried and brought home a man who sexually abused Sandra. He died in 1956, after which Sandra supported herself and her mother with her modeling career. She was successful, the one big drawback being her struggle to stay skinny and competitive. An early extreme diet left her unable to digest any food, but she recovered with the help of a doctor.

Sandra moved to Hollywood in 1957. Her film debut that year was in the MGM film Until They Sail, directed by Robert Wise and starring Paul Newman. The story takes place during World War II and follows four sisters who live in New Zealand. Her work earned her the Golden Globe for New Star of the Year – Actress. She began to struggle with anorexia nervosa, which led to her kidneys shutting down. Again, she recovered with medical assistance.


She signed with Universal Pictures in 1958 and was one of their last contract players before the death of the old studio system. She did a couple of films (1958’s The Restless Years and 1959’s A Stranger in My Arms) with Producer Ross Hunter, who claimed to have discovered her in New York when she was 12 years old.

Her third film for Hunter was Imitation of Life (1959) with Lana Turner, which was a big box office success and made Sandra a star. Universal loaned her to Columbia to headline Gidget. She was only 17 years old at the time. The movie became a big hit in the beach party genre. Warner Bros. borrowed her for A Summer Place, opposite romantic costar Troy Donahue. The massive hit solidified Sandra’s place as one of the most popular stars in the country.


Often paired with John Gavin, they appeared in Hunter’s Tammy Tell Me True (1961), in which she took over the Tammy role that Debbie Reynolds had originated.

In 1960, she starred in Come September with Bobby Darin, his film debut. They married after filming. Their son, Dodd, was born in 1961. The newlyweds also appeared together in the 1962 romantic comedy If a Man Answers. Sandra had another big hit in 1963’s Take Her, She’s Mine.

By the end of the 1960s, Sandra’s film career started to decline. She was dropped by Universal. She rarely worked following her divorce from Bobby Darin, in 1967, and became a virtual recluse.

In 1970, she acted in The Dunwich Horror, as a college student trapped in the middle of a supernatural plot. During the 1970s she appeared in several TV series like Night Gallery, Fantasy Island, and Police Woman. Her final film performance was in the low-budget drama Lost (1983), which was not well received.

Sandra battled anorexia, depression, and alcoholism for years, with her weight falling to 80 pounds at one point. She had to be hospitalized and recovered. Just to fall ill again. In 2000, Dee was diagnosed with kidney failure. She needed dialysis for the last years of her life. Sandra Dee died of complications from kidney disease in February 2005.

So, our breezy summer tale of the widely admired, beautiful blonde has devolved into a depressing winter tale of sexual abuse, disease and death.

But, 80 years after her birth, who first jumps into your mind as the epitome of the ideal good girl? My guess is Sandra Dee. And that’s the power of film.