Sandra Dee

I Forgot How to Pray as Bobby Lay Dying!

This article, written by Jane Ardmore, appeared in
the March 1966 issue of Motion Picture Magazine.

Bobby called her from New York that Saturday morning, and his voice sounded strange. "I'm flying in," he said. "Meet me at the airport, honey, and ..."

"Flying! You must be kidding!" Sandra exclaimed. Because Bobby doesn't fly and he won't let her fly. They do the train routine back and forth to New York, and the boat routine back and forth to Europe, and that's that. He'd been scheduled to leave New York that morning by train as usual, and now here he was calling to say he was flying instead.

Her heart gave a funny little lurch. Dodd had been sick with a cold before Bobby had left two weeks before. She'd picked it up from Dodd, and now here was Bobby ...

"I feel sort of sick," he was saying. "I don't know what it is, but I don't feel up to the train trip. I just want to get home."

Home to her, she knew that. They're a family -- and,they hate being separated. "Bring a blanket," he counseled her, "for the back of the car."

"Oh, no!" thought Sandy, "he's going to be a bigger ham about this than Dodd." What he didn't tell her was that he hadn't felt well for several days ... that he had done the Steve Lawrence Show the night before burning with fever ... that he was shaking now and couldn't wait to get home to his own bed.

Sandy drove to the airport, armed with the blanket. By this time she, too, was shaking. "All I have to do is see a plane in the air and I get nervous, and now Bobby is on the plane and I'm waiting for it to land and I'm a basket case," she told me the day we met at U-l for lunch. "And then the plane lands and I spot him. He gets off the plane and he looks just awful. I've never seen a face so swollen in my life, gray-white, this wide, puffy and hardly recognizable. He'd lost 20 pounds in two weeks. I didn't know that, I only knew he looked ghastly. I'd driven out to meet him in this big Rolls. He kissed me hello and hurried to the car and got right in back with the blanket. It was not at all the Bobby I knew.

"The minute we got home, he says, 'Get me some tea, baby, put some honey in it and call the doctor. For me this is like 11:00 at night!'

She went downstairs to make some tea, and a few minutes later Dodd came running down, bursting with laughter. "Mommy, Mommy, Daddy's doing a dance upstairs in his clothes." She rushed upstairs. Bobby was lying under the blankets with all his clothes and his overcoat on, shivering so the whole bed was shaking. The whole thing was bizarre. Not at all like Bobby. She went to get the thermometer.

"Let me take your temperature, Bobby, that's the first thing the doctor'll ask me," she said, and slipped the glass tube into his mouth. She'd been doing nothing but taking Dodd's temperature and giving him medicine for two weeks, and now here she was with Bobby. It was sort of like a bad dream. She kept staring at the clock but the minutes wouldn't move. She looked at her husband and couldn't believe he was that sick. Time. She pulled out the thermometer. It read 104.

The doctor came and prescribed some drugs, and the next morning the fever was down to 101 and Bobby was walking around the house, so you knew he was going to be okay. "It was nothing ... it was almost over. Bobby's a strong man ... God wouldn't dare let anything happen to Bobby." Only that night the fever hopped back up. No cause for alarm the doctor said when Sandy called, he'd drop by in the morning. In the morning Bobby felt pretty good. It was Sandy who didn't feel so great, and she was due at U-l for some looping on "A Man Could Get Killed.

It was a wretched day. Torrential rains were falling on the San Fernando Valley and the studio was screening a scene shot a few months back. Between loops she was summoned hastily to the phone. It was Bobby. "Honey, I don't want to alarm you," he said, "but I have to go to the hospital because the doctor can't understand why my fever's going up."

"What is your fever?" she asked, trying to keep her voice under control. His temperature was 105. And he had viral pneumonia.

As soon as she could wind up the looping, she rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital. She went straight to the desk, told the young intern on duty, Bobby Darin, and he gave her the room number.

She went to Bobby's room, sat down and tried to wait. She was trembling from head to foot. Her heart was hammering. Seeing Bobby didn't help. He looked terrible when the nurse wheeled him in. He was ashen-faced and dripping with sweat. During the course of the afternoon he went through six pairs of pajamas. He lay without talking, without reading, just holding Sandy's hand, and finally drifting into a fitful sleep.

"What I didn't know then was there are five lobes to each lung and four of his five lobes were affected. That's why his fever kept recurring. As the infection spread to each new lobe, the fever went up. And viral pneumonia doesn't respond too well to antibiotics.

"That day in the hospital, I began to realize just how sick he was. Bobby is the most dynamic boy I've ever known. For him to sit still is quite an accomplishment, and for him to just lie there ... say nothing ... not even read! It was terrifying. I sat wordless with fear. I stayed that night and the next until midnight. I was worried and I was scared, but somehow I knew nothing could happen to Bobby. I pray like crazy when Dodd is sick, but with Bobby -- somehow he's so much stronger than any prayer of mine could possibly be. How could any thing happen to Bobby?

"But the strange, awful thing is, Bobby came so close. He really did. I almost lost him. The doctor didn't tell me until later. He was deeply concerned, I knew that, but I didn't know that for a day and a half they didn't know whether Bobby would live. My Bobby."

Without whom she cannot imagine a life. She tried it once and discovered then that there was no life without Bobby. He's vigorous, he's demanding, he's stimulating -- he's everything a talented and exciting girl wants and needs. It didn't occur to Sandra that he might not ever come home, until the doctor told her later that he just might not have. "Oh my God," she thinks now, and her heart gives that funny lurch it did when Bobby called from New York to say he was flying home.

During the crisis there was nothing to do but sit and wait. Time dragged and memories surged, unbidden. She remembered how lonely she had been in Portugal and in Rome without him. She remembered how she'd begun to stutter with anticipation when the New York skyline finally appeared through the porthole and she knew that he would be there waiting. "I'm going to meet Bobby!" She'd run like crazy with Dodd right beside her, and they were holding each other ... and now here he was, lying there inert and pale and vacant. No flash or sparkle to him.

Finally, on the third day, he snapped out of it. The doctor was there, and for the first time he was joking. Weak as a cat, Bobby grinned at Sandy and suggested she bring him some dinner from La Scala.

"I came laden with an order the likes of which you wouldn't believe," laughs Sandra. "I brought everything Bob loves. You never saw a man eat as much as this husband of mine once he started living again. He'd eat three eggs and bacon, and then send down for a peanut butter sandwich. He spent nine days in the hospital, and he was so weak they didn't think he could walk from the car to the house. But he did, on his own two feet and up the stairs, and you've never seen anyone come back to life with such zest. He wants to devour every moment, cram it all in, not miss a thing.

"He has always been a liver, a doer, but he was always somewhat conservative. Like the plane bit. Earlier, he had flown all over the world, but after we were reunited and so happy, he felt, don't risk it. Now that's all changed. The minute he was really feeling well, we flew to Las Vegas. He phoned me at 3:00 in the afternoon and said, 'I've got reservations for Las Vegas, honey, we're flying up.' 'Flying?' I asked, and started praying. 'Don't be silly,' Bobby urged, 'it's much safer than driving.' He gave me the whole spiel." A few hours later they were at the the airport.

"But it's only a two-engine plane," Sandra had protested weakly, "And it's sort of old, Bobby, the tail is lower than the cockpit." "They make a dozen flights a day," Bobby had said.

"I'm not going," Sandy said. But very half-heartedly. "My Lincoln is bigger than that plane."

Three minutes later they took off -- and had the time of their lives. Bobby confessed once they reached Las Vegas that the plane had seemed pretty battered to him too, and that if Sandra had shed just one tear, he'd have phoned the butler and had him pick them up. But she didn't cry, and he has emerged from his tussle with death afraid of nothing.

A week later, he decided on the spur of the moment that they should go to Palm Springs and soak up some sun. It was Sunday. They threw a few clothes together and took off, just the three of them. Sandy, Bobby and Dodd. "We never left the motel," Sandy says. "We lay in the sun, we ate, we talked." This little guy of theirs is so sharp; they were lying around the pool and he showed them a note he'd been carrying around in his pocket: Dear Kindergarten Parents, it read.

"Honey, this isn't for you, you're not in kindergarten," Sandy said.

"But my teacher gave it to me and said give it to you."

So she and Bobby found out that Dodd has been promoted. He's in kindergarten now and he's only 4. He can write his name, he can speak French and he gets all A's. Bobby almost eats him alive, he loves him so. He takes great pride in the boy and dotes on the child's spunkiness. So does Sandy. Like when they returned from Portugal after the A Man Could Get Killed location. Dodd told her firmly, "You can drive me to school the first day, after that I'm taking the bus." And he takes the bus. On his birthday, when Sandra had to bring cupcakes for all the children in his class, he rode on the bus and she followed in her car with the cupcakes. He's like his dad, he has a mind of his own, and if he doesn't want to do something, forget it.

Right now, Bobby wants to do everything. Sandra says she has never given so many dinner parties, never dined out so frequently, never been on such a whirl of activity as since Bobby got well.

Bobby is scheduled to start shooting the pilot of the series It's a Sweet Life (on NBC's Run for Your Life), but the series itself won't start until May or June. "I never thought I'd live to see him do a series," Sandra says. "But then, I never thought I'd live to see him flying to Las Vegas. And me!"

But the fact is, whatever Bobby wants to do, they do. Not because Sandra Dee needs a strong arm to guide her. She doesn't. She's quite an amazing girl, and she's been quite able to handle her own life since she was a child of 12 working as a model in New York. She may look round-eyed and helpless but she isn't. Not a bit of it. She has had, from the beginning, a faith in life, something her father and mother had, something she simply grew up with. She's a good, strong girl. But as she told me simply when she returned from Portugal, "My marriage is my whole life. I don't want to quit working. I enjoy working, but I just wasn't alive emotionally during the four months I was away from Bobby, and I don't ever want to go through an ordeal like that again."

LIFE, is for living. They both know that, they've known it from the first, but now there is a new dimension to their thinking. They have each other and they've achieved a new intensity together, a wonderful thirst for life.

Bobby's not about to forget he almost died. And Sandy's not about to forget she almost lost him forever.

picture from article

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