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Conversation With A Goddess—Sandra Dee

I watched this happy eighteen-year-old girl as she rose, went to the window, and looked down at the world of average people, the world to which she could never return again . . . And I thought of the loneliness and heartache that would stalk her path from this moment on . . . Only to Sandra it has come earlier than to most of the beauties who blaze in the spotlight. Love, with its many disappointments and ecstasies has not yet touched her. But already there are the cries of:

She’s ruining her health in foolish dieting to keep her figure. . . .

Extravagance! This girl, little more than a child, is spending every nickel she makes on glamour clothes and living like a movie star earning ten times her salary. . . .

Those are a hatful of charges against a youngster who just four years ago at the tender age of fourteen had arrived in Hollywood, well known as a child model in New York, and had clicked big in her screen debut in Until They Sail.

I loved Sandra as the “little girl” sister in this war drama starring Jean Simmons and I wrote glowingly of the baby-faced little blonde newcomer in my column.

The day the item appeared, I received a bowl of roses from Sandra with a charming hand-written note: “Your kind words made me so happy. A girl really isn’t in movies until she’s been mentioned in Louella Parsons’ column.” Hmmmmmm, I thought—a nice thoughtful and pretty smart little girl!

But when I actually met Sandra, not too long after, at the home of producer Ross Hunter (who has since guided the little Dee to her biggest hits and has become her closest friend and mentor) I was surprised at how very unspoiled and refreshingly youthful she was, not at all the cagey prodigy.

AMBITIOUS, YES! The driving urge to become tops in her chosen profession marked this child even before her young mother, Mary Douvan, permitted her to wear the slightest trace of lipstick or to stay up past ten o’clock.

But with all her “dedicated” interest in her work, Sandra at fifteen, was the widest-eyed movie fan I ever saw. You’d never suspect that she spent her days in intimate contact with big movie stars on the studio lots. Her particular “crush” was Cary Grant. She referred to “Miss” Turner (Lana) as “gorgeous” and to Jean Simmons as a “great artiste.”

At this time she had an autograph book which she produced at the drop of a celebrity. She saved programs from premieres. And she wrote fan letters—most of them to Cary Grant. She was required by law to attend school on the studio lots and just like other girls, she mentioned “cramming” for her exams.

And so those brief years of typical Hollywood childhood passed quickly by. Now and then I would see Sandra at Ross Hunter’s poolside or some other social affair attended by the younger set. It was noted she was “dating” Mark Damon, John Saxon, Edd Byrnes, Mark Goddard and sundry other young eligibles, but these items always sounded like ice cream soda sippings to me. Occasionally I felt her dates were studio inspired. Most of her escorts were in Universal-International, her home studio, films.

The change from childhood to girlhood came gradually. Already Sandra had scored dramatically as Lana Turner’s daughter and love rival in Imitation of Life and in Portrait In Black. Her little girl figure had rounded into curves encased in beautiful clothes designed by Jean Louis who also did Lana’s gowns.

Lipstick appeared on her soft curving mouth and flat shoes were replaced by high pointed heels on her smartly shod feet. No longer was the autograph book brought out.

In place of the movie child—suddenly there was the movie star.

But I had not realized how sweeping was the change until Sandra planed back from Italy, where she had been starring in Romanoff and Juliet, for a brief week of rest and conferences in Hollywood before returning to Europe for Come September.

At my invitation for this story she came to see me—and the girl who walked into the “playroom” where I have interviewed so many of the glamour girls of the screen took her official place in my book as one of them!

SANDRA LOOKED SLEEK and beautiful in a blue silk gown with matching blue shoes—her only jewelry was one ring. She said her luggage had been lost in transit and she had neither jewelry nor clothes! (A week later it was all located—so no harm done.)

But even this temporary misfortune didn’t glim Sandra’s glow. She was like a little magpie chatting about Italy, Paris, London (this had been her first trip to Europe). She talked “girl talk” of the loose Paris fashions which she did not like.

She talked of the sleeker hairdos, of the places she had been and the sights she had seen. With all her bubbling enthusiasm there was a new maturity about her and her figure was that of a model’s. Which reminded me of something—

“Sandra, do you remember when I paddled you in print after that terrible experience of having to be rushed to a hospital by ambulance because of your drastic Salts dieting? You aren’t doing anything that foolish to keep thin now, are you?”

“I promised you I wouldn’t, remember? And I have kept my word,” she smiled. “I have come to my senses. I eat what I need without starving myself or taking drastic elimination medicine.”

“Are you sure?” I pressed on. “Ross Hunter told me you still actually do starve yourself.”

She laughed, “That Ross! Unless I eat huge platefuls, Ross thinks I’m not eating anything. I don’t require as much food as he believes I should eat.” I looked at her slender wasp-like waist. “What’s your waist measure now?” I inquired.

“Nineteen inches,” she proudly replied.

“Sandra,” I put in quickly, “I’m going to level with you and do an interview with some pretty hard-hitting questions—the way I do with the grown up glamour stars. I know you’re wise now and mature in your thinking—and there are many things your fans would like to have you answer straight.”

As she had listened her beautiful young “doll” face became serious. “For one thing you mean about my real father, John Zuck,” she said quietly.

“Yes, exactly,” I answered. “About the stories printed that when you appeared in your birthplace, Bayonne, New Jersey, that you refused to see him and did not contact him.”

Indignation flashed in her eyes but her voice was soft and level as she said, “I would like to ask those fans and others who have criticized me what each one would have done in my place.

“HOW CAN I LOVE A FATHER I haven’t seen since I was five years old? I have never in all those years since my mother and I left Bayonne received as much as a postcard from him. I didn’t even know I had a half-brother until one of the magazines printed that I had refused to see my father and brother!”

The words were fairly tumbling from her lips beginning to tremble. “Was there anything that prevented my father from telephoning me? I was appearing for the studio in Bayonne and I was in the newspapers. He knew where I was staying and contrary to all those reports that I wouldn’t see him, he never even telephoned or wrote or sent me a telegram.

“You must remember that my wonderful stepfather, Eugene Douvan, whom my mother married years ago, is the only father I have ever known. I wouldn’t know John Zuck if I met him on the street!”

She caught her breath, again very much like a little girl. “I have no ill feeling or hatred toward anyone in the world,” she said with sincerity. “I have never tried to defend myself against these unjust accusations—that is—until now.”

I had a feeling Sandra was going to cry so I quickly said, “Thank you for trusting me, Sandra. I will try to make my readers understand your position as I understand it. I agree with you—your father should have tried to reach you some way during those years when you were growing up.”

She had completely regained control of herself. “I don’t want to sound like a sob story. I am grateful that my mother, Mary Douvan, made a new and happy life for me while I was still young enough to be impressionable and that as a little girl I grew up under the guidance of a kind and devoted man like Eugene Douvan.

“Thanks to my mother’s courage and love—I knew a happy childhood and I shall be everlastingly grateful to her for it. The most wonderful thing I can say about my young and pretty mother is that she is my best friend and closest pal.”

This, I knew for a fact. Mary Douvan, who is as dark and pretty as her daughter is fair, is one of the most popular young matrons in Hollywood. Although she has been widowed for the years since Douvan’s death, and Sandra is her whole life—Mary is a far cry from the typical stage or movie “mother.”

Time after time I have seen Sandra and Mary whispering, talking and even laughing together like a couple of teenagers. Although Mary advises her daughter—she does not keep her bound with cords of silver. In fact, Mary once laughed to me, “My bedroom in our new house looks more like a movie star’s than Sandra’s—and that’s saying plenty!”

This new home is described by both Sandra and Mary as, “What every fan thinks a movie star’s home should be— white, modern and expensive!”

Which brought me to another topic—the way Sandra spends money.

“Your home—your imported sports cars (for herself and Mary), your expensive clothes, that full length white mink coat you bought before leaving for Europe—Sandra, do these things mean that you are spending everything and saving nothing?”—I had warned her my questions would be blunt.

NOW SHE LAUGHED OUTRIGHT. “Even if I were foolish enough to want to spend all my money—and believe me, I’m not, I would not be permitted to. Under California laws I’m still a minor and required by the courts to put away 25% of my salary. This is held in trust until I am of age at twenty-one. My mother and I have decided that this is a very good thing for me to continue even after I am twenty-one. We’ve decided to set aside this same amount of savings whatever my salary~ becomes.

“By movie standards—actors in the star brackets are now getting anywhere from $250,000 to $1,000,000 for a single picture—my salary at U-I is moderate. ’m not up in the big money bracket. So when the compulsory savings, withholding tax, charity and other deductions are taken out—my take home pay isn’t too big.”

For a “legal minor,” I’d say Sandra talked a very sensible financial line. She was smiling, however, as she went on:

“I’ll confess to you that after taxes and living expenses are taken out—I feel every cent I have left is an investment in my career. And I spend it on clothes, furs and everything that will help me seem glamourous and interesting to the movie fans. I’m not apologizing that I do this.”

I know that on Sandra’s shopping jaunts she has spent as much as $1500 for clothes in one session (a story that shocked some people). But she actually is following the advice of her close friend, the astute and “boy wonder” producer, Ross Hunter.

Not long before talking with Sandra, I had dined with Ross at Romanoff’s and he told me:

“I’ve told Sandra over and over like a Dutch uncle that the public wants movie actresses to be glamourous and exciting. The dullest thing in the world is this current sloppy fad—or even worse, looking and acting like that mythical girl next door! I told Sandra the worst thing she can do is to pose for ‘kitchen art’—whipping up cakes she can’t cook, pretending to be an expert on household tips. If the fans want household hints—get a recipe book!”

Ross really was on a soapbox. “One of the most terrible things that ever happened to screen stars is this fad for being ‘average. People have been kind and called me a successful producer of such movies as Imitation Of Life, Pillow Talk, Portrait In Black. I believe that a big part of that success is that my pictures deal with beautiful and exciting women wearing expensive clothes in costly backgrounds.”

“Did you have to work hard to sell Sandra on this philosophy, Ross?” I chuckled.

“No!” he admitted with a big smile.

I repeated this conversation to Sandra and she admitted she had listened to Ross and believed what he said.

“Even so,” she dimpled, “I was scared when I bought that full length white mink—and I had cause to be. Ross was just a bit”—she pinched her little finger and thumb together indicating a smitch,—“taken aback. He reminded me, ‘It’s one thing to be glamourous—but first keep out of the poorhouse!’ ”

Sandra was completely enjoying herself as she added, “So—before he could lecture any more—I was given a new contract by U-I with more money on a seven year deal—and each year it goes higher. Even Ross had to admit the poorhouse isn’t right around the corner for me.”

I LOOKED THOUGHTFULLY at this young goddess as she suddenly rose, walked to the window and looked down at the world of average people, the world in which she had decided she would never be able to live—and thought of the sadness, unhappiness and even tragedy that has stalked the paths of the women who have trod it. One has been closely associated with Sandra in movie making—Lana Turner.

“Sandra, are you too young and happy—or have you ever looked around you at the private lives of these exciting actresses you admire so much? Have you wondered if the heartaches and some of the bitter things that have happened to them are worth it? I mean, will you be willing to go through the same fate, if need be, for the same heights?”

Again I was almost bowled over by the insight of this girl who still looks and sometimes acts like a teenage novice.

She answered in that soft voice of hers with its little girl pitch, “Most of the big heartaches that come to girls and women are based in unhappiness in love. Movie actresses, particularly, seem to be unwise or unhappy in love—at least, through their first loves.

“So far—love hasn’t happened to me although it has often come to girls even younger than I. I’ve had crushes, yes—and yens, and things like that. But I’ve never been seriously in love.

“Who knows what it will bring when it comes? I want to love and to be loved—and any girl who says differently isn’t telling the truth.”

I didn’t want to interrupt her for she seemed eager to talk about this subject which fascinates women of all ages.

“I hope I won’t be badly hurt by love,” she went on, “but who am I to expect that heartaches will never cross my path? I can tell you this: If real love comes along, something I know in my heart is real and wonderful—I won’t test it, or question it or dodge it because it might not last forever. I will welcome it for whatever it brings.”

Recalling that some love experiences can be pretty bitter and unwonderful, I asked Sandra if she and Lana (an expert in heartache) ever had any talks on the subject during the making of two films together.

“I wouldn’t presume to ask questions of Miss Turner,” she answered immediately, “because she does not wear her heart on her sleeve. I have been working with her when she has gone through some pretty terrible troubles and worries. But, on the set, you’d never guess her unhappiness—except for an unguarded moment or two when I’ve caught her face when she didn’t know anyone was looking.

“What I like so much about her is that she never seems to wallow in self pity. She wears courage like a Jean Louis gown!”

I repeated what I had previously asked, if Sandra and Lana had talked about ‘the price of love’ in the glamour world.

“Not exactly in the way you mean,” Sandra replied. “After all—while Miss Turner does not treat me like a little girl and we are very good friends, I am only two years older than her own daughter. She’d hardly real daughter.”


Sandra said, “I’ve met her. Cheryl has come on the set when we are working and when she is with her mother, surrounded by the people her mother works with, Cheryl seems happy. You can tell just by watching them together—Lana Turner loves her daughter deeply and she is a devoted and loving mother”—Sandra said this as though she defied anyone to challenge her statement.

One more important question remained to be put to my young friend.

“Sandra, you are a child of divorce—of a broken home. Do you think it has had any unhappy effect on your life, any lasting hurt?”

She shook her head emphatically. “No. None at all. I know this isn’t what a lot of moralists contend—but I can only speak from my own experience. I believe that real happiness can be built over the lessons we learn from unhappiness. My mother has told me this and I have seen it with my own eyes—and heart. If we learn wisely from mistakes and unhappiness—we appreciate even more the happiness that comes into our lives.” Talk about “out of the mouths of babes”—-Sandra was proving with each new thing she had said to me how truly she is “grown-up.”

WE HAD ENJOYED a long and to me illuminating talk. It was time for Sandra to leave. There was much for her to do before taking off again for Europe. As for me, my telephone calls had been backing up as they always do when I “close off” for an hour or so.

I gave Sandra a little hug and bade her godspeed. I wished this baby star well and hoped that life and love would be good to her.

Come to think of it—I think I shall file away this interview carefully. It may be very interesting to bring it out in say—five years—and see what the fates have brought to Sandra against these hopes of hers when she was inexperienced—but a willing glamour girl!



Sandra stars next in COME SEPTEMBER and TAMMY, TELL ME TRUE, both Universal-International.



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