Sandra Dee stepped down the stairs of a DC-8 plane, gripping her new husband Bobby Darin’s arm. As a crowd of photographers jockeyed to snap a picture, Bobby planted a tender kiss on Sandra’s temple.
In 1960, the elopement of the plucky Gidget star and the suave “Mack the Knife” singer sent Hollywood into a giddy tailspin. But Sandra’s cheery smile hid fears and emotional anguish that young Bobby wouldn’t know how to handle. “Her baggage was a big factor in their split,” Sue Cameron, author of Hollywood Secrets and Scandals and a friend of both stars, said in an exclusive new interview with Closer Weekly, on newsstands now.
Films like A Summer Place had already made Sandra a box-office sensation by the time she was introduced to Bobby on the set of Come September in Portofino, Italy. Initially, the 24-year-old star’s swagger turned Sandra off. “She hated me and I loved her,” Bobby said of their first meeting, where he presumptuously told Sandra that he planned to marry her. Flustered, and with no dating experience, Sandra, then 18, began ignoring Bobby on set. He retaliated by teasing her because “any reaction is better than none,” he reasoned.
Ordered to be cordial to her costar by her domineering stage mother, Mary Zuck, Sandra accepted a date — and fell in madly in love with Bobby. “He really loved life. When you were around him, it was a buzz,” the couple’s son, Dodd, 57, recalled. “Bobby was very, very funny and when he loved you, you were his total focus,” added Cameron.
But Bobby and Sandra’s quick engagement so enraged her mother that she abandoned Sandra — who had never lived alone. “I begged Bobby to marry me,” Sandra recalled. Though they hastily wed in December 1960, Sandra confided that she was “scared to death.”
The roots of Sandra’s anxiety lay in the trauma she had suffered at the hands of her stepfather, Eugene Douvan. “While my mother was dating him, he began fondling me. After they got married, it got worse,” recalled Sandra. “Her mother didn’t acknowledge it. Sandy had no support at all,” added Cameron. Unable to stop the abuse or confide in her mother, Sandra developed a severe eating disorder at age 9.
Bobby, meanwhile, remained oblivious to his wife’s secret pain as he struggled with his own demons. “He had mood swings and was always in a hurry,” said Cameron, who noted that a childhood case of rheumatic fever left Bobby with a premonition that he would die young. “It affected everything he did.”
After the birth of their son, Dodd, in 1961, Sandra’s doctor prescribed amphetamines to help her deal with exhaustion. “I zipped through the day [and] the only thing that would bring me down was a drink,” said Sandra, who developed a pill and alcohol dependency that led to the end of her marriage.
The couple legally parted in 1967 and Bobby married and divorced his second wife in 1973, but he and Sandra remained soulmates. “We even lived together after the divorce,” Sandra once said, who died in 2005. She was at her ex-husband’s bedside as he battled the heart ailments that ended his life in 1973 at age 37. “The last time I saw Bobby, he said they were going to try a relationship again,” said Cameron. “Sandra was very much still in love with him and he was still in love with her.”
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