1942 – 2005
Sandra Dee, the beautiful blond “Gidget,” who was famous for her child-like and feminine, yet tomboy, innocence in the well known beach-party film, has affected me more than once.
Many years ago, when I first read about her being sexually abused by her step-father as a child, and that she confronted her mother about it, I felt a sort of kinship with her because her mother denied the truth.
As I worked on this article, I found a photo of Sandra Dee with a dog, and it made me cry. She looked so peaceful in the photo, and with an inner -quiet joy- which depicted a moment in time when the pain of having been sexually abused, is gone.
Animals have a way of doing that.
Sandra Dee suffered a lifetime battle with anorexia, and as an adult, she struggled with alcoholism and Amphetamines.
At the age of fourteen, Sandra was found unconscious in her bedroom, and revived at California’s UCLA Medical Center. Sandra’s mother, Mary, was the one who found Sandra, barely alive.
“Mary’s mothering style bordered on obsessive. She breastfed her daughter until she was two years old, only stopping after she was advised that her milk alone wasn’t sufficient for a toddler. She then began a strange practice, spoon-feeding the child until she was six. Everything was served from a giant bowl – either oatmeal with raw egg, or a full cooked dinner mashed into soup. It hardly seems surprising that the young star developed a dysfunctional relationship with food that would last her a lifetime.
Concerned by her rail-thin physique, make-up artists would try to bribe the young star by offering to give her lipstick if she’d drink a malted milk, but their pleas were to no avail. In fact, while on set filming her first picture, Dee became so bloated as a result of her “lettuce diet” that her pants split. “I looked like an elephant from the waist down” is how she later described it. She was diagnosed with acute oedema – the tiny star was so malnourished from lack of protein that her renal system shut down and she was unable to urinate, causing the shocking bloating.”
At first it was thought that Sandra attempted suicide over a boyfriend, but her blood tests established that her potassium level was dangerously low, as the result of anorexia and bulimia. Sandra Dee was regularly binging on Epsom salts as a laxative to purge herself of food.
Sandra had suffered from eating disorders since the age of nine, and was sexually abused from the age of five.
“Gene didn’t molest me only in the mornings, but during the day, the night, whenever he wanted to and there was an opportunity, ” Dee revealed in a 1991 interview. “He’d say, ‘Let’s snuggle’, and I never fought back – I was too small. Too young.” The abuse finally ended just before Gene died, when Dee was 12 and on the verge of stardom.
“Gene” was Sandra Dee’s step-father, a real estate developer Eugene (Gene) Douvan.
“My dad got me to have sex with him. I didn’t understand what was going on. I was a child. By the time I was 11, I knew it wasn’t right. But what could I do, tell my mother? I figured she knew.”
Sandra Dee always knew her mother had known her husband was sexually abusing Sandra, but her mother refused to acknowledge it.
Every morning, Mary sent Sandra in to say goodbye to her stepfather in the couple’s bedroom. Afterwards, Sandra would then ask her mother to button up her now open blouse –a subtle, yet strong, request for help from her mother, who never did anything.
Douvan teased his bride, “I married you to get to Sandy.” Sandra came to know it as “when we married Daddy.” Gene and Mary brought Sandra along on the honeymoon where she slept in between them. This pattern continued. Sandra later recalled Gene had groped her when he was dating her mother but it got worse after they married. The “cuddle” sessions turned into incest – and strangely she would wake up in her own bed each morning with her parents acting as if everything was normal. Every morning, Dee said, her mother would send her in to her parents’ bedroom to say goodbye to her stepfather. When she returned, Dee would ask her mother to help her button up her open blouse. Years later, Sandra said her mother “had to have known” of the abuse that went on for years. She believed that she was offered to Gene by Mary “so he wouldn’t stray.”
During a period of battling on-going panic attacks, her problems with food and alcoholism, Sandra could not keep the lid on the pressure cooker anymore:
“My mother and I were at home with a few of her close friends, and she started eulogizing my stepfather. I was slowly getting more and more irate. Finally I said, “Mom, shut up. A saint he wasn’t.” My mother started defending him, and I said, “Well, guess what your saint did to me? He had sex with me.”
My mother was shocked, then angry. I knew I hurt her. I wanted to. I had so much anger toward her for not doing something to help me. But she ignored me, and the subject never came up again. I realize now that my mother erased the abuse from her own mind. It didn’t exist, so she didn’t have to feel guilty.”
“My aunt told me she actually suspected the abuse,’ Sandra Dee said later in life. And although her aunt said to Sandra, ‘Hold your head up high; you told the truth,’ I have to ask what, if anything, did her aunt do when she “suspected” her niece was being abused?
My guess is nothing.
Like many victims of incest, Sandra Dee said she loved her step-father.
In the months leading up to her death, at age 60, Sandra’s son, Dodd, was trying to deal with his mother’s pain:
“I wonder what my mother’s life would have been like if she hadn’t been so pretty. If she hadn’t been so attractive to a dirty old man. If her mother hadn’t been so mesmerised by her beauty that she turned her into a doll. If Sandy hadn’t had those melting brown eyes that told a Hollywood studio they were looking at a movie star… Bad things happened to little Sandra Dee.”
Sandra Dee died on February 20th, 2005 of complications due to kidney disease.
I am certain that the sexual abuse, and her mother’s abuse with food, and her neglect of her daughter, were the root cause of Sandra Dee’s battles with alcoholism, depression, severe eating disorders….and ultimately, her death.
After reading that Sandra loved her step-father, as well as hated him, I realized another reason she has affected me. I too loved my rapist father. They make you think the sex with them is “love,” and my problems with food have been directly linked to the incest with my father.
findadeath.com, au.lifestyle.yahoo.com, people.com, en.wikipedia.org, People Magazine