In 1978, a new film burst onto the American scene whose popularity has not yet diminished among moviegoers and popular music fans. The film is a musical called "Grease," and it is an attempt to depict the life of teenagers during the late 1950s--the classic era of bobby socks, convertible cars, and rock and roll. The film's leading male, John Travolta, and the dress and life-style he espouses have once again become ideals among many American children and. interestingly, also among the young people of eastern Europe, who are ever ready to rebel against the restrictions of their own societies by copying any new fad from the West. The female star of "Grease" is the talented Australian-born pop singer, Olivia Newton-John, who plays the character of Sandy Olsen, a naive and properly-mannered American teenager, compared to Sandra Dee in the song "Look At Me I'm Sandra Dee", who is eventually swayed over to the more flamboyant, motorcycle gang life-style of the "ultimately cool" Danny (John Travolta). Many people who have seen "Grease" believe that Sandra Dee is simply the character depicted in "Grease." Little do they know that a real Sandra Dee actually exists.
The real Sandra Dee was a well-known Hollywood movie actress during the early 1960s. In fact, she was born in 1942 as Alexandra Zuck into a Carpatho-Rusyn (Lemkian) family in Bayonne, New Jersey. Her grandparents, Akym Van'ko and Aleksander Cymbaljak, were natives of the Lemkian Region (now in southeastern Poland) who immigrated to the United States before World War 1 and who were for many years members of the Lemko Sojuz in Yonkers, New York. The pretty, blond-haired, blue eyed Alexandra began her career as Sandra Dee already as a model at the age of 12 for a leading agency in New York City. Three years later she played in her first film, and in 1957 signed a long-term contract with United-lnternational Pictures in Hollywood. From 1960 to 1967, she was married to the popular singer Bobby Darin.
In an era of American social development when Elvis Presley, James Dean, and other "rowdies" were idols of the young, and when Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield were female sex symbols for the somewhat older, another side of America was represented by a clean, upright, and wholesome way of life as shown in numerous films of Doris Day and Rock Hudson. In this equation, Sandra Dee was chosen to play the role of the proper American teenager, and she herself once remarked: "I was a junior Doris Day for years." Sandra starred in a whole series of films-"Gidget" (1959), "A Summer Place" (1959), "Tammy, Tell Me True" (1961), "Tammy and the Doctor" (1963), and "Take Her, She's Mine" (1963), in which she played cute and glamorous nymphets on the threshold of romantic maturity.
By the 1970s, the innocent teenager was no longer a popular or real reflection of American female youth, and because Sandra was typecast in such a role, her career eclipsed. In contrast, she has played more serious dramatic roles in some of her later films--"The Dunwich Horror" (1970) and "Ad est di Marsa Matruh" (Italian, 1971).
Nonetheless, the legend of the innocent Sandra Dee as a symbolic reflection of American girls in the 1950s and 1960s lives on and has become virtually immortalized through the songs and the character depicted in the enormously popular contemporary film. "Grease."
Copyright ©1980, Carpatho-Rusyn American Vol. III, No. 3
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