Yesterday I finished reading Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, written by their son Dodd Darin with the help of professional writer Maxine Paetro. This book was published long ago in 1994. Even then Bobby Darin was long dead (b. 1936–d. 1973) and Sandra Dee had been out of the spotlight since the early 70s. She too has since died, at the relatively young age of 62 (b. 1942–d. 2005). More on her age in a minute.
The main title Dream Lovers is a play on the title of a song written and sung by Bobby Darin, “Dream Lover,” a hit in 1959. Here is a link, which features pictures of Bobby and Sandra together:
Those of us of a certain age will remember Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. Darin was a very successful singer of pop hits (he wrote some himself, including “Dream Lover” above), a promising actor (nominated for an Academy Award in 1963), and legendary as an in-person entertainer. “Mack the Knife” was one of his greatest hits. Due to heart damage from illness as a child, he expected to die young, and was from early on a young man in a hurry to outrace death and have a great career before his time was over. He succeeded in having a huge career, and did indeed die at the young age of 37. He was posthumously elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not too shabby a career.
Sandra Dee became a movie star at a very young age. She was a featured performer in a number of movie successes, and was popular at the box office. My own introduction to Sandra Dee probably came in 1961, when I saw her in “Tammy Tell Me True.” Tammy was an unsophisticated but pure young lady, able to read very well despite zero formal education, raised in the Christian faith by her grandparents, who lived on a shanty boat on the Mississippi river. The grandfather is still living when we first meet Tammy in “Tammy and the Bachelor.” I missed that movie when young, but “Tammy Tell Me True” always stuck with me, partly because of the astonishing beauty of Tammy (Sandra Dee). In my declining years I have read the books which inspired the four Tammy movies. The books are by Cid Ricketts Sumner. For more on Tammy, see my blog posts for April 19 and 26, 2018. The books are much better than the movies, and will interest Christian readers, as well as possibly non-Christian libertarians. Sumner is an author who deserves to be rediscovered.
Sandra Dee, besides being a movie star, also had some brief success as a singer. I was going to link to her one song in “Tammy Tell Me True,” which is a superb song and was a hit, but the song has recently been blocked from appearing on YouTube. Instead I will link to her song “When I Fall in Love.”
To see Tammy singing in “Tammy Tell Me True,” you will have to watch the movie. The song segment is, in my opinion, artfully filmed, and the song is lovely, well deserving of the hit status it obtained.
As fate would have it, Bobby Darin met Sandra Dee on a movie set. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. The dream lovers were together. Pretty quickly he swept her off her feet, and the two were married within a few months. He was in his mid-twenties, while she was 19. Or maybe she was exactly two years younger. There is uncertainty about the date of birth of Sandra Dee. While officially she was born April 23, 1942, the strong possibility was that she was born April 23, 1944. Sandra said that she and her mother advanced her age by two years when Sandra was beginning life as a very successful model. This was intended to help her get more jobs more quickly. So she may have been about 17 when she married Bobby Darin, rather than 19. What is certain is that neither one was ready for married life.
Bobby Darin, as he married, was your typical sexually active predatory male. He had even fathered a child out of wedlock in 1957. (A fact which Dodd Darin may not have known as he wrote about his father.) Sandra Dee, by contrast, was as sexually active as Tammy–that is, not sexually active at all. The two did not live together before marriage; their love was consummated only after marriage. But there is a vast complication. Sandra Dee had been sexually molested by her step-father, Eugene Douvan, beginning when Sandra was age five. Later, ‘I was eight, and now, when my mother wasn’t there, “Daddy” started having sexual intercourse with me.’ (p. 36) This sexual abuse was constant–although surely even once is enough to scar a person for life. Eugene Douvan died before Sandra became a movie star. We’ll leave him to God. I can stand it if he can, to borrow from Huck Finn.
Sandra’s mother Mary Douvan was a very strange person. Almost certainly she knew about the sexual abuse. But for Mary Douvan, if you don’t acknowledge something, it didn’t happen. She lived her entire life in that way, as the book makes clear. So Mary never honestly faced up to what was happening to her daughter. Decades later, Sandra finally told her mother in words what had happened.
‘Thirty years after Gene’s death, I told my mother what had happened at last. She was ranting into the night about what a saint Gene was, and I finally couldn’t stand it. I said, “He wasn’t a saint. He had sex with me.”
‘She said, “You’re crazy and you’re drunk. Go to bed.”
‘I went to bed, and the next day I said to her, “Now I’m sober. And it happened.” She didn’t say anything. She had nothing to come back with.”‘ (P.39)
Sandra Dee was a person of immense faults. She could be selfish and foolish. She was anorexic. She became an alcoholic. But she was not the type of person to blacken a dead man’s character by lies. Far otherwise, in fact. Looking back as a 50-year old, she could even say, “With all of the many painful episodes, I loved Gene.” (p. 38) We can be certain the abuse happened.
If Sandra Dee’s early days were certain to cause emotional problems as her life unfolded, Bobby Darin’s life was perhaps even more weird. From birth until about age 31 or 32, he thought his grandmother was his mother! His real life mother Nina, he thought was his older sister. Really. You can’t make this stuff up.
What happened was, Nina became pregnant with Bobby. Nina and her mother (Polly) concocted a plan that worked. They went away for a few months, and came back with young Bobby, who was supposedly the child of Polly (and thus considered by everyone to be a legitimate child rather than illegitimate). But he was really the child of his older “sister” Nina. He found out about this only very late in life. His true mother told him, because he was planning to go into politics, and she thought he should know the truth. (p. 234 and following) However, there were almost certainly other motives for Nina finally revealing the truth. “Bobby could be brutal at times and had often hurt Nina. Now he was paid back in full.” (p. 239)
Nina never would reveal who was the father of Bobby. To this day, no one knows who his father was.
I plan to continue the story of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee next week.