Why Johnny Saxon Doesn’t Go For Sandra Dee
Sandra Dee pushed her foot down on the accelerator. Her T-Bird glided smoothly over the winding road leading to Universal-International Studios. It was eleven forty-five. In fifteen minutes she had a luncheon date with Johnny Saxon. And later that afternoon they were scheduled to give a joint interview on the subject of the real Saxon and the real Dee.
As she stopped for a traffic light, she realized her teeth were chattering. Absurd! It was so hot. Yet she couldn’t keep them quiet. Then little butterflies began to dance in her stomach. “Oh, no! she thought. Not that, too.
But it had been worse, she remembered, about two years ago, just before she first met Johnny. Then, everything seemed to depend on how they’d get along. If her test was successful she’d get the lead opposite John Saxon in “The Restless Years.”
The light changed and Sandra drove on. Again, she remembered the day when she first met Johnny. That morning she’d read a fan magazine story about him. Even now, two years later, she could almost remember the first paragraph word for word:
“John Saxon, one of Hollywood’s handsomest leading men, is certainly a puzzlement. He’s quiet, aloof, unfriendly, doesn’t mix with his co-workers and turns down invitations to everything . . .”
And she remembered how scared the words had made her.
In the hours before her test she’d had conniptions. Of all the men in Hollywood to make a test with! He sounded awful—John Saxon—monster. But maybe the letter in her handbag would help matters. It was a letter addressed to John, written by a drama coach she had been studying with. The woman, who had formerly taught John, had written the note for Sandy to take with her.
“He’s a very nice person when you get to know him,” she’d told Sandy. “This letter will help you two get acquainted faster.”
Sandy had gratefully accepted the letter. Maybe it would help, she’d thought—it had to. This screen test was very important to her. She needed all the help she could get. John just had to be nice to her; he had to—or she’d up and die of fright! . . .
The studio gates just ahead brought Sandra back to the present. “Okay, Sandy,” she said to herself, “you were petrified two years ago. But why be scared about this afternoon? It’s just another interview.” . . .
John Saxon parked his black Morgan portscar in front of the studio commissary. It was eleven-fifty; he was ten minutes early. He stretched out on the lawn and soaked up some sun. He closed his eyes and thought about what he’d say at the interview. He had to be able to put into words his feeling for Sandy. It certainly wouldn’t be easy. He went over in his mind their first few meetings. Those days he would never forget!
On a Friday morning in 1956, John had been told that the following Monday he was to report to the studio to meet Sandra Dee and to pick up a script for the screen test he was to do with her. The director had chosen a love scene from “The Restless Years.” John was already set for the picture. Now they were testing the umpteenth girl for his leading lady. John had heard of Sandy’s reputation as the country’s top teenage model whose face was on more magazine covers than the President. But she was young. Only fifteen. A mere child. Probably stuck up, too. Probably plenty cool and aloof and used to being fussed over.
Monday came and Sandra Dee and John Saxon were formally introduced. She sure is pretty with that yellow cornsilk hair, that slender build, that beautiful face. She’s quite a doll, Johnny remembered thinking and he remembered how his thoughts had gone no further. After all, he was twenty-one and she was only fifteen; just a kid; the same age as his sister, Delores.
The director gave them each a script and told them the test would be shot in four days. They hadn’t said much to each other; only “hello” and “so nice to meet you.” But as they were turning to leave, Johnny remembered Sandy coming up to him, slowly, shyly and holding out her hand. He could remember her saying:
“Here . . . Miss Cashman said to. . . she thought that . . . well, this envelope, it’s for you. . .” Then she’d turned and walked away leaving him alone with the letter. He remembered thinking that it was odd Betty Cashman had sent a note instead of just plain regards as she’d done before. Could it be his old friends in New York were reading and believing all those stories about him? Could it be that Sandy thought he was some kind of unfriendly ogre?
The day of the test Sandy stood at the back of the soundstage holding her mother’s hand. Her feet felt like two cement blocks, there was a lump in her throat the size of a grapefruit. The dialogue she’d memorized danced around in her head all mixed up with the words from the magazine article she’d read that morning about Johnny. So far he hadn’t been anything but nice. Maybe she hadn’t been around him long enough to see the monster in him come out. Maybe when they started the scene he’d be difficult to work with. The director called them to take their places. Johnny looked so handsome, Sandy remembered. He looked so calm, so self-confident while she shook like a plate of jello.
“Roll ’em . . .” the director called. The cameras started turning. They said a few words to each other and then, following the script, he’d walked over to her and took her in his arms. As he pulled her close to him, John remembered, he could feel her trembling. He’d gulped. Suave movie actors were supposed to be used to females going weak at the knees in their presence; he’d had his share of swooning females but this—it was ridiculous! Big sophisticated model! Hah! She was petrified. He wasn’t causing the tremors, she was scared, just plain scared! He’d remained calm, though. He drew her closer to him and put his finger under her chin and tilted her cameo face up toward his. He kissed her and . . . WHAM! He could still feel the cold beads of perspiration that had dotted his forehead. Now he had goosebumps. John Saxon, ladies’ man, was a nervous wreck! With Sandy in his arms, with that first kiss he’d gotten a rude awakening: Sandy had obviously never been kissed before. It shook him up. He blew his lines and the scene had to be reshot. The cameras rolled again. John remembered that this time when he took Sandra in his arms he drew her towards him gently; she’d seemed like a spun-sugar cake that would crumble at the slightest touch.
The scene was over. Sandra remembered looking up at Johnny. She remembered she didn’t say a word—she couldn’t. But her eyes said it, her lips said it: “Thanks, Johnny. Thanks for being so understanding. Thanks for being so kind, so friendly; thanks for caring.”
Since that day back in 1956 there had been a bond between them. It wasn’t a bond of love, not a romantic relationship, despite columnist attempts to link them. Sandy drove through the gates of the studio, headed her car for the commissary and parked in front. As she got out of the car she saw him lying there on he grass, eyes closed. She nudged gently.
“Mr. Saxon, I presume? Luncheon is being served.”
John got up from the lawn, shaking the blades of grass from his sweater. He put his arm around her and they walked toward the dining room. He thought to himself that it wouldn’t be hard to tell the truth about the real Sandy. The cute doll, sophisticated on the surface, who was an unsure, unpretentious, unworldly teenager underneath. It had been a long time since her kisses had made a nervous wreck of him. A long time since he’d first discovered how unsophisticated she was; almost two years since that first kiss. She was like a sister; she was something precious; someone to protect.
They found an empty table in the commissary, gave the waitress their order and settled back to chat.
“It would be easier if we just told the writer that we’re Hollywood’s two biggest anti-socialites,” Johnny said in mock seriousness.
“Well, it would be easier; but honestly Johnny, I’m tired of reading stories about how you go around reading books on Buddhism all day and how you never talk to anybody!”
“Is that what they’re saying about me these days?”
“You know darn well it is. I don’t think it’s wrong for the stories to say that you have your intellectual side, but they should talk about the other side, too!”
“You mean you’ve noticed I have more than one side.”
“No, Johnny, I’m serious. I want everyone to know you like I do. Hey, I just thought of something. Maybe you like being called aloof. Then if you do meet someone you don’t like you just avoid them and they think you act that way toward everybody so they aren’t insulted.”
“Well, well,” Johnny grinned, “you’re a psychiatrist. Miss Witch Doctor. Have you got a license to practice?”
“Very funny. I don’t care what you say, I’m going to tell the truth about you, the whole truth and nothing but . . .”
“Okay, Sandy, you win. We’ll tell the reporter all! But I want to hear what you’re going to say in advance; so start talking!”
Sandy took a bite of her minute steak, sipped some tomato juice and then began.
“Well, for one thing, I think we should tell her about the screen test and how wonderful you were to me. And how when we started working on the picture you were a regular gadabout, particularly at lunchtime. Remember? One day we’d eat together, the next day you’d be off shooting the breeze with the crew and eating from a lunch bag, and the day after that you’d be with some people in publicity. That certainly proves you mix with your co-workers. And I can tell her how after lunch you and Jody McCrea and some of the other guys played touch football or practiced Judo on the backlot; that sounds more like you than spending lunchtime alone with your nose in a book, doesn’t it?”
“I can also tell her how you have a real keen sense of humor, and how you get a kick out of making people laugh and sometimes even scaring them out of their wits—only in fun, though.”
“Who did I ever scare?”
“You mean you’ve forgotten the day that nice woman in publicity admired your car and you volunteered to give her a ride on the lot? I’ll never forget it. The way you raced your motor until it sounded like a jet plane and then took off. When you got back a few minutes later, the little lady stumbled out of your car. Her permanent was standing on end and her eyes were as big and round as saucers. And you just stood there calmly and said, ‘Let’s do it again sometime.’ And she looked at you and said, ‘Never!’
“And I’m going to tell her about John Saxon, practical joker, too,” Sandy said.
“Give me one example of a practical joke I’ve pulled. Go ahead, I dare you. Name one.”
“Okay,” Sandy said, “you asked for it. Remember the night the studio invited us to see a preview of ‘Escapade in Japan’? Well, afterwards when we all went to the Japanese restaurant for dinner and everyone took off their shoes and sat on the floor, don’t you remember swiping the shoes of that man across from us? We were hysterical all through the sukiyaki, making private jokes about everyone at the table. Then that man got up to leave and couldn’t find his shoes. You sat there so innocently, asking him what he’d lost.”
“Yes, I do vaguely remember, now that you mention it. He wasn’t too happy when he found his shoes on MY feet, was he? Speaking of shoes, I’ll just have to tell the reporter about you and your funny ideas about my shoes when we were in Paris.”
“Paris? Shoes? Why whatever do you mean?” asked Sandy with a straight face.
“You mean you’ve conveniently forgotten how you bribed the hall porter to shine one of my shoes with black polish and the other with brown. You told him I was an eccentric young American who always wore shoes of two different colors.”
“I confess. Now let’s drop the shoes, shall we? I just thought of another Saxon myth to explode. I know I read somewhere that all you eat is wheat germ and molasses.”
“That’s not exactly a myth. I am a health food addict, you know that. What makes you think I’m not a wheat germ man?”
“What? I’ll tell you what. Think back to that day in Paris when we hired a car and went sightseeing. You remember asking the driver to stop the car in Montmartre so you could go shopping?”
“I can’t seem to think of that day,” Johnny said, knowing perfectly well what Sandy had in mind.
“You mean you forgot about going into that little grocery shop and coming back to the car with a sausage three feet long just reeking with garlic; and that hunk of cheese and that huge loaf of French bread. Surely you couldn’t forget your picnic lunch in the back of a taxi cab with everyone honking at us to move on.”
“All right, now it’s my turn to explode a few wrong notions about quiet, but extremely sophisticated Sandra Dee. Let me see,” John said, scratching his brow as if in deep thought. “Oh, yes, we could start with the incident in France at the Lido when your Mom and I and a few of the other members of the cast went to dinner at that very chic night club. Remember? You insisted on sitting at the ringside table so you could have a good view of the floor show.”
“Oh, Johnny, you wouldn’t tell her that,” Sandy said, turning beet red.
“Why not? I think your fans would like to know that when those chorus girls came out in their, ahem, brief costumes that you started blushing and wound up looking the other way during the whole show!”
“Oh, please, Johnny, I did no such thing.”
“Confess. You aren’t the least bit sophisticated; in fact, you’re just a child when it comes to worldly things.”
“I’m a child! Well, what about the day those French kids in the park almost called a gendarme because they thought you planned to steal their marbles!”
“I was just trying to teach them the fine points of the game. I used to be aggie champion of my block when I was a kid.”
“Wait, I’m not finished. I just happened to think of that other ‘sweet’ trick you performed in Paris; you know, playing your bongo drums in your hotel room every night so that nobody could get any sleep.”
“Why I’m surprised at you accusing me of such a thing. After all, you know I play a drummer in the picture and Mr. Minnelli told me to practice. It isn’t my fault if the walls at the hotel were thin!”
“Speaking of Mr. Minnelli, I’ll never forgive you for getting me into trouble that morning we were shooting the dancing sequence.”
“I got you into trouble?” John looked innocent again.
“You’re darn right you did. Poor Mr. Minnelli got everyone in place and the cameras all lined up and I kept laughing and he kept getting madder and madder and saying, ‘Sandra come now, what’s so funny!’ I could have killed you. Of course he couldn’t see you because your back was to him. He had no way of knowing that you kept whispering crazy things into my ear every time he called ‘Action.’ So I took all the blame.”
The waitress came over to their table and told them the reporter they were expecting had arrived. Johnny and Sandy got up and walked hand in hand out to the front of the dining room. It was time, the rehearsal was over; time to tell the reporter all the facts about the real John Saxon and the real Sandra Dee. They looked at each other and Johnny gave Sandra a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Then they walked out the door and made their way over to the publicity department.
No, it wouldn’t be hard to talk about each other. It would be very easy for Sandy to tell about how wonderful Johnny was, how gentle and kind and considerate. Sure, he was smart and liked good books and classical music but he liked to have a good time, too. Sure, he had his quiet moments and maybe he didn’t exactly come on like Jerry Lewis but he was fun to be with and understanding and he knew when it was time for being serious and time for making jokes. Yes, Sandy thought, it wouldn’t be as difficult as she thought. Knowing John Saxon was a real experience in friendship, and although it was hard for her sometimes to express her innermost thoughts she knew that today she’d be able to talk loud and clear about Johnny Saxon.
John Saxon, with his arm around the petite blonde girl with the slender build and the beautiful face, was thinking similar thoughts. That it would be easy to talk about Sandy. To tell everyone how truly amazing she is; a beauty at sixteen, a real trouper, a hard-working actress. Yes, and a zany character when it comes to playing along with his jokes. A sometimes shy, sometimes quiet girl. Amazingly down-to-earth in spite of the fuss she’s had made about her since the age when most girls are in pigtails and bluejeans. Yes, Sandy is a remarkable girl, he thought. True she’s just a kid; just like a sister—but every guy needs a friend, a buddy, a girl he can talk to and not worry about romancing and impressing. A sweet someone who you can be yourself with. “Thank heavens for little girls,” he thought. And he knew one that soon would be a grown-up lady and then, boy, watch that stag-line form. But he’d be around to see that no one got out of line because . . . well, Sandy’s something special, someone to help and protect.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1958