February 20, 2005

Teen Film Star Sandra Dee Dies at 62

LOS ANGELES - Actress Sandra Dee, the blond beauty who attracted a large teen audience in the 1960s with films such as "Gidget" and "Tammy and the Doctor" and had a headlined marriage to pop singer Bobby Darin, died Sunday. She was 62.

Dee died Sunday morning at the Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, said Cynthia Mead, nursing supervisor.

She died of complications from kidney disease after nearly two weeks in the hospital, said Steve Blauner, a longtime family friend who represents Darin's estate. Blauner said Dee had been on dialysis for about four years.

"She didn't have a bad bone in her body," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "When she was a big star in the pictures and a top five at the box office, she treated the grip the exact same way she treated the head of the studio. She meant it. She wasn't phony."

The family expected to hold private funeral services.

At Universal Studios, Dee was cast mostly in teen movies such as "The Reluctant Debutante," "The Restless Years," "Tammy Tell Me True" and "Take Her She's Mine."

Occasionally, she was able to do secondary roles in other films, such as "Imitation of Life," "A Portrait In Black" and "Romanoff and Juliet."

At the height of her fame, Dee was arguably the biggest female teen idol of her time. "She was Gidget, and she was Tammy, and for a time she was young America's ideal," film critic Leonard Maltin once said of her.

After a one-month courtship, Dee married Darin in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1960. A son, Dodd Mitchell, was born to the couple the following year.

In 1965, with her divorce from Darin dampening her teen appeal, Dee was dropped by Universal.

"I thought they were my friends," she said in an interview that year with The Associated Press, referring to her former bosses. "But I found out on the last picture ('A Man Could Get Killed') that I was simply a piece of property to them. I begged them not to make me do the picture, but they insisted."

Born Alexandra Zuck on April 23, 1942, in Bayonne, N.J., Dee became a model while in grade school.

In a mid-career interview with The Associated Press, she explained her name change: "I used to sign vouchers and sign-out sheets with 'Alexandra Dee.' Somehow it stuck." When she was signed to her first film, she said, "'Sandra Dee' was the name they gave me."

Dee made an independent film "Rosie!" (1968), starring with Rosalind Russell, but her movie career dwindled after that.

Her name was resuscitated in 1978 with the film "Grease," which featured the song "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee" mocking her squeaky-clean image. But Dee didn't mind, Blauner said.

"She always had a big laugh about it. She had a great sense of humor," he said.

Blauner said her favorite films were the ones she made with Darin. Despite their divorce, he remained the love of her life, Blauner said.

In a March 1991 interview with People magazine, Dee said she was sexually abused as a child by her stepfather and pushed into stardom by her mother. Dee, who turned to pills and alcohol, said she hit bottom after her mother died in 1988.

"I couldn't function," she told People, adding that she began drinking more than a quart of scotch a day as her weight fell to 80 pounds. She said she stayed home almost constantly for three years. Her last film credit was for the 1983 movie "Lost."

Dee credited her son with helping her turn her life around. She began seeing a therapist regularly and hoped to land a job on a TV series.

Kate Bosworth portrayed Dee in last year's movie "Beyond the Sea," a biography of Darin.

Actor Kevin Spacey, who directed and co-wrote the film and played Darin, has said Dee approved of the movie. "She called me...and said she loved it," he said last year.

'Carousel' Star John Raitt Dies at 88

LOS ANGELES - John Raitt, the robust baritone who created the role of Billy Bigelow in the original New York production of "Carousel" and sang with Doris Day in the movie "Pajama Game," died Sunday. He was 88.

Raitt, the father of singer Bonnie Raitt, died from complications of pneumonia at his Pacific Palisades home, his manager, James Fitzgerald, said in a statement.

Raitt had become well known on the West Coast for his handsome presence and ringing voice when in 1944 he was invited to New York to try out for the role of Curly in the road company of "Oklahoma!" He was rushed from Penn Station to the St. James Theater and an audition with Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers.

In 1995, Raitt recalled: "I hadn't sung since California, so I said, 'Do you mind if I warm up?' I sang Figaro's aria from 'The Barber of Seville.' Then I sang all of Curly's songs.'"

There was silence when he finished. The problem was not his voice, which was both melodic and powerful, but his height. At 6 feet 2 was he too tall for Curly? Hammerstein reasoned: "I'm a tall man. Why can't Curly be tall?" Raitt was hired for the Chicago company of "Oklahoma!"

Rodgers and Hammerstein had been working on their second collaboration, "Carousel," and they chose Raitt for the role of the doomed hero Billy Bigelow.

Raitt astounded the opening-night audience in 1945 with his dynamic soliloquy, which he called "practically a one-act opera which took six and a half minutes to sing." He said Hammerstein had been inspired to write it when he heard the newcomer sing Figaro at the audition.

Raitt's star status on Broadway was assured, and after the long run in "Carousel" he appeared in "Magdalena," "Three Wishes for Jamie" and "Carnival in Flanders." He lacked a big crossover to film until "The Pajama Game" in 1954.

"The Pajama Game" became a successful movie with Raitt and several others in their stage roles and Doris Day for popular appeal. The numbers "Hey, There," "Steam Heat" and "Once a Year Day," choreographed by Bob Fosse, helped make the 1957 film a delight. Despite his good notices, it was Raitt's only starring movie (he had played two minor roles while briefly under contract to MGM in 1940).

In his later years, Raitt was overshadowed by the fame of his blues-singing daughter. He delighted in her success and approved of her campaigning for civil rights, peace and other causes. "She used to be known as John Raitt's daughter; now I'm known as Bonnie Raitt's father," he observed.

After she had become a big attraction in pop music, they sometimes appeared together, singing duets with her song "Blowing Away" and his "Hey, There."

"He treats every show with equal thrill and passion," Bonnie Raitt once said. "He puts the same into it no matter whether it's a charity breakfast for 50 people or opening night of a Broadway show.

"He never sold out for the quick buck. If he did Vegas, he would have been a bigger star, but he didn't want to sing for drunks and hecklers, and neither do I."

John Emmett Raitt was born Jan. 10, 1917, in Santa Ana, Calif. At Fullerton Union he excelled in track, winning a scholarship to the University of Southern California. He concluded his college education at the University of Redlands in 1940.

His deep, resonant voice developed early, and he sang at service clubs and churches throughout Southern California. His professional debut came in 1940 as a chorus singer in "HMS Pinafore" with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, where he would be a frequent star in later years.

With little operatic training, he sang lead roles in "The Barber of Seville" and "Carmen" at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. That led to the fateful meeting with Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Raitt remained a top musical star, touring with Mary Martin in "Annie Get Your Gun," and lead roles in "Destry Rides Again," "Man of La Mancha," "Kismet" and "Zorba" as well as "Oklahoma!" "Carousel" and "The Pajama Game." He played in summer stock from 1959 to 1984, keeping his fee moderate so theaters could afford him. "I liked the work, and if I upped the price, I wouldn't get the work," he reasoned in a 1995 interview.

In his 80s, he continued touring with a one-man show, "An Evening with John Raitt," and made appearances with Bonnie on the Boston Pops broadcast and her own concerts.

Bonnie and two brothers, Steven and David, were born to Raitt's first marriage to Marjorie Haydock. They divorced in 1971. A second marriage to Kathleen Smith Landry ended in divorce in 1981. That year, he learned from an old friend that Raitt's high school sweetheart had recently been widowed.

"Having played Zorba, I believe in grabbing at life," he recalled. "So I called her and this sweet voice answered. 'I'm free now,' I told her, 'and I'm coming to dinner.'"

Raitt and Rosemary Kraemer were married in 1981. Bonnie sang "Safe in Your Arms" at the wedding. Raitt sang "My Heart's Darling" at her 1991 wedding to actor Michael O'Keefe.

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