There are two heartbreaking moments in Sandra Dee's life and both revolved around persons she has loved the most--Bobby Darin and their son, Dodd Mitchell. In both instances, Sandra had to break grievous news to her youngster. "I had to tell Dodd that his father and I were two grown-ups who didn't work out. " Sandra said. "But there was no bitterness in me then although the end came after we suddenly discovered we no longer blended. We had six lovely years together--but the seventh year became an unhappy one..."
It hurt Sandra deeply to break up with Bobby, but it was a decision that was in their son's best interests. They agreed it would be more of a strain on Dodd if they didn't go their separate ways. The second time Sandra had to take Dodd aside and be the bearer of painful tidings was early the morning of December 20, 1973--only five days before Christmas.
"It was truly the worst experience of my life...even more difficult than when I explained why his father and I were ending our marriage. I hadn't been prepared for it this time. I had not been told Bobby was going to die. But he did--and it was so sudden..."
Sandra choked back the tears. It wasn't as sudden as if Bobby had been killed instantly in an auto accident, a plane crash or some other tragically swift fatality. Sandra knew what the score with her ex-husband was --so did Dodd to a certain extent. But how much, really, does an eleven year old boy understand about what it means to have lived for 37 years with a rheumatic heart ?
Of course Dodd knew that his father had undergone open-heart surgery in 1971, but he didn't actually know all of the details.
"The doctors inserted two artificial valves in Bobby's heart then, " Sandra was saying. "We all believed that would cure his problem. You read so much everyday about the many successes of open heart surgery and the long life enjoyed afterward. That's the way I thought after Bobby had his operation..."
But Bobby Darin did not make a full and total recovery. For a few months he seemed to be coming around. Indeed, what periodic examinations revealed were that his circulatory system was working almost normally and that he probably would experience no more further difficulties. But as time went by, it became apparent that one of the two man-made valves that were designed to regulate the flow of blood through his heart was beginning to malfunction.
Yet at first there was no hint of a critical turn, and Bobby , who just beginning to reverse a popularity slide (not the first setback in his fabulous career), seemed to be hitching himself to another comet. Nightclubs were booking him again and TV was beckoning the onetime "angry young man" of show business.
Indeed, he must have been looking forward to life , or he would not have married again. That happened in mid -1973, and it was a happy occasion all around-- for his bride Andrea Yeager, for her two children, and for Bobby's son. They all went on a sail-- it was called a "houseboat honeymoon."
"I was very happy for Bobby, " said Sandra , who has also known the ups and down of show business. "I thought then Bobby has found himself at last. He seemed to have set a course for himself that would take him back to the top-- like it once was..."
Like it once was -- but that was so long ago. And yet it came so swiftly for Bobby Darin, who sped up from the sidewalks of The Bronx as a brash teenager named Walden Robert Cassotto. There was only a brief period when Darin had to wonder if he would make it big. That was after he had been signed by Decca records and was billed immediately on the Tommy Dorsey television show as "the 19-year-old singing sensation." Yet he didn't click.
But a year later in 1958, he finally made it big with "Splish Splash" , which sold more than 100,000 copies in three weeks.
"Bobby became the idol of the teenage crowd," Sandra reminisced. "And he also became my idol..."
But hearing him on records and seeing Bobby on TV didn't really make Sandra's heart react the way it did when she first saw him in person.
"I met him in Rome," recalled Sandra, "and I fell for him like the proverbial ton of bricks. He was a brash young man, but not in the sense employed by the writer and critics. He had an inner softness that I --well, I married him didn't ? "
Their meeting came about because they happened to be in the Italian capital for the filming of Come September. By that time, Sandra Dee was an established movie star and Bobby , who was rapidly becoming a legend as a rock 'n' roll singer, was just breaking into films.
Not long afterward--on December 1, 1960, Sandra and Bobby were married . And just a little more than a year later on December 16, Dodd Mitchell was born.
"We were so terribly happy then, " Sandra said. "Bobby had so much to look forward to. His career was going like a comet."
But things at home didn't continue all that heavenly. Bobby and Sandra began having their spats and finally a day came in 1963 when they actually separated. Sandra would not discuss the difficulties that arose between her and Bobby , but all through the years the rumors have persisted that the trouble was over Sandra's mother, Mrs. Eugene Douvan.
Yet for Bobby Darin, the biggest hurt sprang from a feeling of not having been able to fulfill and ambition that he nurtured for his own mother (Grandmother Polly)-- to see her son reach the heights as an entertainer.
Since he started out, Bobby always would say to his mother (Grandmother Polly) "Mom you just watch me---I'm going to the top."
He reached that plateau as a singer making his first of four recording that sold more than a million copies: "Mack The Knife".He went to still further heights as he proudly stepped to the stage on two occasions to receive Grammy awards . And he was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Captain Newman M.D.
But none of these achievements was to be in Mrs. Vivian Fern Cassotto's awareness, for just before "Mack The Knife" was released, she died.
"Bobby was devastated by his mother's death," said Sandra. Sandra had not met Mrs. Cassotto. "But I knew a great deal about her. Bobby spoke of her often--he told me how she cared for him after his father had died when he was small boy, how she nursed him threw a series of painful rheumatic fever attacks that began when he was eight years old and recurred each year until he was thirteen."
Sandra would not discuss the unhappiness that brought about the break up of her marriage to Bobby. She prefers only to remember the good times and joys she and Bobby--and Dodd Mitchell--shared together.
And she wants the world to know that when she and Bobby divorced it was not done with bitterness but with "good sense".
"None of the things they wrote about our life are true,"Sandra said. "My mother wasn't over protective and she was not the cause for bringing about the end to my marriage. Nor was Bobby, as the writers suggested a domineering husband.
"I adored him even after it was all over between us. How could it be otherwise after spending six lovely years together ?"
The years after the divorce were marked by Bobby's frequent visits to Sandra and Dodd . Bobby was a father who loved his son and held his wife in the highest admiration and respect as a mother. Although the court papers had severed the tie between Sandra and Bobby, they had no effect on Bobby's concern and affection for their son.
That is why on the morning of December 20 the tears came to Sandra Dee's eyes and the words couldn't find their way to her trembling lips as she faced Dodd. Sandra knew of course, that Bobby had been scheduled to undergo his second open heart surgical procedure after he had been admitted to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on December 11.
It was on the 19th that the delicate operation was performed, and though Sandra was not at his side during the critical period that followed the surgery, she was close to him in mind and spirit.
"I prayed very hard for him, "she said. "But prayers aren't always answered...."
In breaking the tragic news to her son, Sandra knew that Dodd would feel a part of his own life was lost. Bobby Darin is gone now, but his spirit and vitality live on in his son, who is a constant daily reminder to Sandra Dee of what was once a happy and contented period of her life.
"I will always cherish the memories that Bobby left for us," Sandra said. "Not even Bobby's death can take those away..."
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