A reigning teen star of the late 1950s and early 60s, whose pert innocence and saucy yet virginal sweetness struck a nerve with the pre-sexual revolution's youth audience until a more-knowning kind of twentysomething--the Tuesday Welds and Ann-Margrets--came to the fore.
A successful child model from the age of ten, the petite, twinkly-eyed blonde Dee made her film debut in "Until They Sail" in 1957 and starred in a series of popular romantic comedies ("Gidget" 1959) and melodramas ("Imitation of Life", "A Summer Place" both 1959, "Portrait in Black" 1960) usually as a good girl on the brink of sexual maturity. Dee also took over the title role from Debbie Reynolds in the popular "Tammy" film series, starring in "Tammy and the Doctor," (1963) and "Tammy Tell Me True" (1961). Her reality was not so squeaky clean, according to her 1991 interview with People magazine, Dee was sexually abused as a child by her stepfather and pushed into stardom by her mother.
At age 18, Dee wed brash singer-actor Bobby Darin, with whom she co-starred in "Come September" (1961), "If a Man Answers" (1962) and "That Funny Feeling" (1965). Her diminshing box office and dampening youth appeal was attributed by her Universal bosses to her rocky split from Darin, and they dropped her in 1965. Divorced in 1967 (though Darin remained the love of her life), she made her final screen appearances, including"The Dunwich Horror" (1970), a handful of telepics, and guest shots on such series as "Fantasy Island" and, in voice only, "Frasier." She only revealed in the 1990s her recovery from anorexia, drug and alcohol addiction, and the near-fatal depression that precipitated her premature, self-imposed retirement from the screen.
Spending nearly three years inside her home, Dee eventually turned her life around with the help of her son Dodd Darin, and after therapy began seeking a return to the screen. She has remained a pop culture touchstone: her name and image was evoked in 1978 with the film "Grease," which featured Olivia Newton-John's character Sandy modeled loosely on Dee, and Stockard Channing as Rizzo singing the tune "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee," mocking the teen idol's squeaky-clean image. And just prior to Dee's death in early 2005, her life with Darin was depicted in Kevin Spacey's loving Darin biopic "Beyond the Sea" (2004), with Kate Bosworth portraying the actress.