Last week we began a discussion of the book Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. The book was written by their son Dodd Darin with the help of professional writer Maxine Paetro, and published many moons ago in 1994.
Bobby Darin (mostly a singer, but also an actor) and Sandra Dee (mostly a movie star, but also a singer) did find ways to shatter their lives. The marriage of the two dream lovers was pretty quickly on the rocks. There was fault on both sides. They found ways to annoy one another successfully. Eventually Bobby Darin took the initiative in ending their marriage–to the surprise of Sandra Dee. He would do the same in his second marriage, when he took the initiative in ending a marriage his wife thought was going okay.
Sandra never married again. She fought anorexia, a failed career, and alcoholism. They were largely losing battles. However, she may well have stayed sober the last years of her life. As the book ends in 1994, she was doing well.
You will be shocked, shocked, to learn that she made much less money as a movie star than one might have expected given the very positive degree of her stardom. The studio made most of the money. So part of her problems later in life included a lack of money. At one point we are told that she was better paid as a model than she was as a movie star.
Bobby Darin left a significant estate to his son, with an unusual provision that the money come to him only very late in life. This was done apparently for two reasons: to encourage him to stand on his own two feet and earn a living, and to protect him from people who might have taken advantage of him when he was young.
For me there were several things that especially struck me about this book. One was the honesty of the people looking back on Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. Bobby Darin especially attracted love and hatred. His friends and his family loved him–and were often furiously angry with him. But to read their comments is to listen to people trying to tell the truth. These are not wise Christian people coming at us from biblical solid ground. But they are trying to tell the truth. If they are furious with Bobby, they tell us, but they always seem able to maintain an objectivity even when they know Bobby was in the wrong.
Dodd Darin did not speak to people who only hated Bobby. But the honesty of Dodd Darin is remarkable as well. He sees when his father has been a jerk. He doesn’t try to sugar coat it. He loved his father and still loves him, but Dodd is trying to tell us the truth. He tells us the truth about his relationship with his mother. It was not always smooth. Here is just a brief snippet, reporting on a time when Dodd was about 25 or 26. I have censored one word.
“Needless to say, becoming my mother’s keeper created a weird dynamic between us. I resented her because she was the parent. I was going through my own problems and wanted to look to her and lean on her for support and love and comfort. But that was impossible. Our roles were almost reversed. I became the parent. I love her, but she was a pain in the a–.” (p. 346)
(This reminds me of one incident I had with a boy who was in about the fourth or fifth grade. I was tutoring him at the elementary school. He was smart and well-behaved, extremely mature for his age. Once we talked briefly about his mother. He said, quietly, something like, “Yeah, I’m having a lot of trouble with my mother.” It was clear to me that he, at age 10 or 11 or 12, was raising his mother, rather than his mother raising him. Dodd Darin would understand.)
Sandra Dee, despite her enormous faults, is also admirable for her honesty. She had another eight years to live when the book was published. But she gave the go ahead on a project which she knew would reveal many painful truths about her.
Life is complex. Thank God that God is the judge rather then we flawed people are the judges.
Dodd Darin, channeling Huck Finn, told us at the end,
“Writing this book was quite simply the most difficult thing I have ever done. To be honest, if I had known how difficult it was going to be, I would not have undertaken it. Many times during the year of working on it, I was ready to give it up. Not only did I have to unearth and acknowledge painful aspects of my parents’ lives and of my own, but I had to do so without the insights of my grandmothers and my father, who were no longer with us to tell us their side of the story.” (p. 369)
Dodd Darin seems still to be married to his wife after over 25 years, and has two daughters. He, unlike his parents, has apparently managed to stay married.
A wise doctor dealing with Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee would have said something like this: “Take two doses of Christianity and call me in the morning.”
That is the key takeaway I get from the book. It is impossible to live life sensibly without Christian principles to guide one. Neither Bobby Darin nor Sandra Dee had the solid foundation of Christ and His truth. Incredibly gifted people–and both Bobby and Sandra were gifted in their art–need Christ as much as the ordinary person. Fame, money, artistic accomplishment, beauty–they all can be handled wisely only by those who anchor themselves in Jesus Christ and His truth. I hope it is clear that I don’t mean that as an insult. There is much to respect in the lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee–as well as much over which to weep.
Dream Lovers is a fascinating book. It is not for everyone. Be warned that the f-word and other vulgar language are frequent. But for those of us able to scrape away such things, and willing to look at a great many depressing incidents in the lives of two famous people, it is a book of great interest. Since it is 26 years old and apparently has not been republished, it is not an easy book to find. The best price I could find today for a used copy was $18.15 total (prior to sales tax, however) at AbeBooks. It is probably available for free through inter-library loan.
There are at least two other biographies of Bobby Darin, of which I have read neither. I probably will try to find them, if only to read more about Sandra Dee. She is still one of the most beautiful girls every to appear on screen. I wish her life could have been more like that of Tammy Tyree, whom she portrayed so well.
Kevin Spacey starred as Bobby Darin in the biopic “Beyond the Sea” (2004). I will probably try to see that eventually. Kevin Spacey we have learned in recent years has had his own problems with sexual self-control, as did Bobby Darin. Perhaps Mr. Spacey was the perfect guy to make a movie about Bobby Darin.