Sandra Dee: A Legacy of Beauty and Pain

Sandra Dee
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.”
From the film, "Gidget"

Set photo from the film, “Gidget”

 

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.

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Sources:

findadeath.com, au.lifestyle.yahoo.com, people.com, en.wikipedia.org, People Magazine

 

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12 Responses to Sandra Dee: A Legacy of Beauty and Pain

  1. I’m sorry. rest gently please. Dusty

  2. Little Nel says:

    I read this story in 2005 when Sandra’s son made it public.

    I felt so sorry for her.

    Sandra said, “My mother was shocked, then angry. I knew I hurt her…etc.”

    My first reaction to this was that Sandra knew that her mother used her to keep “Gene” happy and in her home and was “shocked then angry” because Sandra refused to remain silent about the sexual abuse she endured. I believe that Sandra blurted out the truth because she wanted her mother to acknowledge it and admit that she knew about the abuse.

    “I knew I hurt her..etc.” seemed to be her inner guilt for about talking about their secret and trying to get her mother to show some compassion for her instead of a dead “dirty old man.”

    Sandra’s parents were deplorable. Her mother was aware of the abuse and sucked the life out of Sandra for her own security needs. Dodd Darin was doing this mother justice when he made her personal life and her struggles public and exposed his mother’s pain filled dilemma resulting from the sexual abuse.

    What a piss poor mother who used her beautiful talented daughter as a mistress for her husband to ensure his financial support and life insurance benefits.

    • Day says:

      What a piss poor mother who used her beautiful talented daughter as a mistress for her husband to ensure his financial support and life insurance benefits.
      >I agree … What a sadistic non-courageous mother.

    • Alethea says:

      Isn’t it amazing how WE feel guilty for exposing child rapists?

      • Little Nel says:

        “Isn’t it amazing how WE feel guilty for exposing child rapists?’

        It’s because WE are taught that our feelings of pain and shame are “not important” in the grand scheme of life. All that matters is protecting the secret and the abuser, so that the guilty can hold their heads high in society.

        • Bree says:

          All that matters is protecting the secret and the abuser, so that the guilty can hold their heads high in society.

          +Yep. my abuser is holding his head real high. I can see him on the internet on facebook as he changes the pictures with the daughter often ..so he can get narcissistic supply and feel loved and special and accepted. he is like that. I don’t look much but when I feel upset ….I do. What a dastardly person. If only this girl knew what her dad is, a rapist and she is not safe on a day to day basis. He thinks or told me he knows how far to push the limits with his arousal and etc. Yeah…that’s what he thinks. I don’t believe it. I wouldn’t leave my kid alone with him.

          • Jess says:

            That’s really messed up Bree, I’m sorry.

          • Little Nel says:

            “Yep. my abuser is holding his head real high.”

            I’m sorry Bree. I know how humiliated and saddened that you feel. When a dastardly person gets away with a crime, it’s discouraging, especially when they flaunt it without any remorse or accountability. It’s demoralizing and retched.

            • Bree says:

              it’s discouraging, especially when they flaunt it without any remorse or accountability. It’s demoralizing and retched.
              ++==Yes. It is discouraging and that is why I don’t look and see this perp very often… at all. You are so right about how they flaunt it without any remorse or accountability. That is exactly what he does. Oh well…..I will recover and I am a Survivor who is learning to Thrive one day at a time. Thanks for understanding and for your response. It is nice to have someone identify with what I am feeling. I don’t feel all alone and miserable.

  3. Jess says:

    Reading her story here made me cry. I feel like I can relate to her in so many ways and in those struggles and burdens that you wish you could just free yourself of.

  4. Anonymous says:

    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.
    =====Yes. I loved my abuser as well. He made me think the sex with him was love. The abuser had an idea of “love” that was a sick twisted version of love. His mind did illusions and he believed the illusions as if they were real. “I suppose he was an actor and I was tricked into believing his acting was real.” He could have earned an Oscar and I could have won best supporting actress. If someone were to have witnessed us, they would have thought I was with the love of my life and him as well. I am glad to say that the actors were not real and it was rape, which is illegal and punishable by imprisonment.
    Sadly, only three out of every 100 rapists will ever spend even a single day in prison, according to a new analysis by RAINN of Justice Department data. The other 97 will walk free, facing no consequences for the violent felony they have committed.
    Because rapists tend to be serial criminals, this leaves communities across the nation at risk of predators.

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