Sandra Dee, the only child of John Zuck and Mary Cymboliak Zuck, was born Alexandra Zuck on April 23, 1942, in Bayonne, New Jersey. Sandra’s parents divorced when she was five years old, in 1950.
Sandra Dee began her modelling career as a child model when she was discovered by Producer Ross Hunter on Park Avenue in New York City with her mother when she was 12 years old. She went to the Professional Children’s School during her modelling career.
Sandra Dee ended her modelling career in 1957 and moved to Hollywood. Sandra Dee continued her education and graduated in June 1958 from University High School in Los Angeles. Sandra Dee made her film debut in Robert Wise’s 1957 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) film Until They Sail. Her performance in the former earned her a Golden Globe nomination as one of the year’s most promising newcomers. Sandra Dee rose to prominence as a teenager thanks to her roles in Imitation of Life and Gidget (both 1959). She had anorexia nervosa, depression, and alcoholism, and for the last four years of her life, she needed kidney dialysis.
Sandra Dee’s Death Cause
Sandra Dee died on February 20, 2005, at the age of 62, at the Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California, from complications related to kidney disease. Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, California is where she is buried.
Life and Career
Early Years, 1942–1951
Dee was born Alexandra Zuck on April 23, 1942, in Bayonne, New Jersey, to John and Mary (née Cymboliak) Zuck, who met at a Russian Orthodox Church dance when they were teenagers. They married soon after, but Sandra was five years old when they divorced. Dee’s mother, Mary, and her aunt Olga “were first-generation daughters of a working-class Russian Orthodox couple,” according to her son Dodd Darin in his biographical book Dream Lovers about his parents, and Dee recalled, “we belonged to a Russian Orthodox Church, and there was dancing at the social events.” Sandra Dee was Alexandra’s new name. By the age of four, she had established herself as a professional model and had progressed to television commercials. [requires citation]
Dee’s actual birth year has been a point of contention, with evidence pointing to both 1942 and 1944. Her year of birth is 1942, according to legal documents such as her California divorce record from Bobby Darin, as well as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and her own gravestone. She admitted to being 18 when she met Bobby Darin in 1960, and the couple married three months later, in a 1967 interview with the Oxnard Press-Courier. Dee was born in 1944, according to her son’s book, but because she began modelling and acting at a young age, she and her mother falsely inflated her age by two years in order to find more work. In 1950, Dee’s parents divorced, and her mother married a man who had been sexually abusing Sandra before marrying her mother, and who continued to do so after they married.
Modelling Career, 1952–1956
Dee was discovered with her mother on Park Avenue in New York City when she was 12 years old, according to producer Ross Hunter.
Dee recalled in a 1959 interview that she “grew up fast” in an environment dominated by older people and that she was “never held back in anything [she] wanted to do.”
Dee tried to lose weight to “be as skinny as the high-fashion models” during her modelling career, but an improper diet “ruined [her] skin, hair, nails—everything.” Her body was unable to digest any food she ate after she slimmed down, and she needed medical assistance to regain her health. She “could have killed [herself]” and “had to learn to eat all over again,” according to the actress. Despite the negative effects on her health, Dee earned a generous $75,000 as a child model in New York in 1956 ($748,000 today), which she used to support herself and her mother after her stepfather died in 1956. Dee’s large modelling salary, according to sources, was more than she later earned as an actress. She went to the Professional Children’s School in New York while modelling.
Early Films and The Universal Contract, 1957–1958
In 1957, Dee moved from New York to Hollywood, putting an end to her modelling career. In June 1958, she graduated from University High School in Los Angeles. Dee made her screen debut in Robert Wise’s 1957 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) film Until They Sail. Dee was featured in a column by Louella Parsons in the December issue of Modern Screen, who praised the young girl and compared her looks and talent to Shirley Temple’s. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year – Actress that year.
In The Reluctant Debutante (1958), MGM cast her as the female lead, with John Saxon as her romantic co-star. It was the first of a series of films they collaborated on.
For the English dub of The Snow Queen, she provided the voice of Gerda (1957). Dee continued to struggle with anorexia nervosa, which caused her kidneys to temporarily shut down, despite or because of her newfound success and the effects of sexual abuse.
Dee signed with Universal Pictures in 1958 and was one of the company’s last contract players before the demise of the old studio system. She had a lead role in producer Ross Hunter’s The Restless Years (1958), opposite Saxon and Teresa Wright. She followed up with A Stranger in My Arms, a novella for Hunter (1959).