model and progressed to film. Best known for her portrayal of ingenues, Dee won a Golden Globe Award in 1959 as one of the year's most promising newcomers, and over several years her films were popular. By the late 1960s her career had started to decline, and a highly publicized marriage to Bobby Darin ended in divorce.
She rarely acted after this time, and her final years were marred by illness; she died as a result of renal failure.
Birth and backgroundDee was born Alexandra Zuck in Bayonne, New Jersey. Her parents divorced before she was five. She was of Polish and Carpathian-Russian ancestry and was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church. Her son Dodd Darin wrote on page 27 of his biographical book about his parents Dream Lovers that Sandra's mother, Mary Cymboliak, and her sister Olga "were first generation daughters of a working class Russian Orthodox couple." Sandra herself recalled on page 30 "we belonged to a Russian Orthodox Church, and there was dancing at the social events."
Alexandra would soon take the name Sandra Dee. She became a professional model by the age of four and subsequently progressed to television commercials.
There has been some confusion as to Dee's actual birth year, with evidence pointing to both 1942 and 1944. According to her son's book she was born in 1944, but since Dee started modeling and acting at a very young age, she and her mother falsely inflated her age by two years so she could find more work. Therefore 1942 was listed as her birth year in official studio press releases, leading to that year being considered truthful in verifiable sources. If Dee was indeed born in 1942, she was 18 when she married the 24 year-old Bobby Darin in 1960.
In a 1959 interview, Dee recalled that she "grew up fast", surrounded mostly by older people, and was "never held back in anything [she] wanted to do." During her modeling career, Dee attempted to lose weight to "be as skinny as the high fashion models", though an improper diet "ruined [her] skin, hair, nails - everything".Having slimmed down, her body was unable to digest any food she ate, and it took the help of a doctor to regain her health. According to the actress, she "could have killed [herself]" and "had to learn to eat all over again."
CareerEnding her modeling career, Dee moved from New York to Hollywood in 1957. There, she made her first film, Until They Sail, in 1957, and the following year, she won a Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year - Actress, along with Carolyn Jones and Diane Varsi.
She became known for her wholesome ingenue roles in such films as The Reluctant Debutante, Gidget, Imitation of Life, and A Summer Place. She later played "Tammy" in two Universal sequels to Tammy and the Bachelor in the role created by Debbie Reynolds.
During the 1970s, Dee took very few acting jobs but made occasional television appearances.
Personal lifeHer marriage to Bobby Darin in 1960 kept her in the public eye for much of the decade. They met while making the film Come September (released in 1961) together. She was under contract to Universal Studios, which tried to develop Dee into a mature actress, and the films she made as an adult—including a few with Darin—were moderately successful. They had one son, Dodd Mitchell Darin (also known as Morgan Mitchell Darin). She and Darin divorced in 1967 and Darin died in 1973.
In 1994, Dee's son Dodd Darin published a book about his parents, Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, in which he chronicled his mother's anorexia, drug and alcohol problems and her disclosure that she had been sexually abused as a child by her stepfather, Eugene Douvan.
Illness and deathDee's adult years were marked by ill health. She admitted that for most of her life she battled anorexia nervosa, depression and alcoholism. In 2000, it was reported that she had been diagnosed with several ailments, including throat cancer and kidney disease. Complications from kidney disease led to her death on February 20, 2005, at the Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California.
Sandra Dee is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, not far from her mother, Mary C. Douvan, who died on December 27, 1987. She is survived by her son, her daughter-in-law and two granddaughters.