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26 June 2000 (USA)  »

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Alexandra Zuck the Last Universal Studios' Contract Star
16 June 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This episode studies the life and career of Alexandra Zuck from her 1942 birth, in Bayonne, New Jersey, as only child of John and Mary Zuck, who soon divorces John, severs his ties with their daughter, who loses contact with him, and begins her new role as ambitious stage mother to four-year-old Alexandra, who is billed in a series of talent shows as "Human Doll" Sandra Dee.

Mary remarries Eugene Douvan, a New York City Real Estate entrepreneur, who adopts Sandra, but by most reports abuses the child, a fact which neither Mary nor Sandra discusses with family and friends who perceive a mounting tension within the family.

Sandra signs with a modeling agency and appears in fashion shows and print ads, while beginning her second career appearing in television commercials.

During the mid-1950's, Universal Studios Producer Ross Hunter notices in Sandra a sophisticated quality of maturity beyond her years and offers her a film acting contract upon her and Mary's relocating to Hollywood, hence the sub-title of this episode, referring to the perception that Sandra Dee is able to portray convincingly a variety of young adult films characters while still a teen.

Beginning in 1957, Sandra Dee launches her audience-pleasing persona of wholesomeness with vulnerability in a series of Dramas for Universal, later branching into Comedy.

In 1960, Sandra travels to Italy to perform a role in the film "Come September" (1961), this also starring Rock Hudson, Gina Lollobrigida and Singer Bobby Darin. Sandra initially rejects co-star Bobby Darin's romantic advances because she sees in him a reckless streak, but within a year, they marry, and Sandra becomes entangled between her manipulative stage mother and her rebellious husband.

From here, the episode plays very few happy notes for Sandra outside of the birth of son, Dodd, in December of 1961. Depression, eating disorders, alcoholism, a declining film career, three miscarriages, an undependable husband, and the loss of her savings because of an investment swindle all take their toll on Sandra's health, and now the tables are turned to force Sandra to depend upon Mary, who takes a position in a Real Estate firm.

When Sandra Dee decides against renewing her contract with Universal Studios, she enters the history books as its final contract star, as by now the Studio System has completed its course.

So, this becomes a bittersweet "Biography" for fans of the lovely Sandra Dee to confirm her many hardships behind the effervescent screen and television persona of the mature teenager whom many young females may wish to emulate, many young males may dream of meeting, and many parents may wish to see qualities of hers bestowed in their children, but it's very nice to see guests speaking in encouraging reflections, and Sandra's regarding Bobby with endearing reminiscence.

Interview Guests for this episode consist of Sandra Dee (Self), Dodd Darin (Son), Audrey Tannenbaum Darin (Dodd's wife/childhood friend), Vee Walden (Sister-in-law), Cliff Robertson (Actor/co-star), Dwayne Hickman (Actor/co-star), John Saxon (Actor/co-star), Troy Donahue (Actor/co-star), Paul Wendkos (Director), Richard Rogg (Promises Treatment Centers founder), Ross Hunter (Director, 1991 interview), and Bobby Darin (Husband/entertainer, 1966 interview).

Archive film footage includes Mary Zuck, Lana Turner, Alice Pearce, James Darren and Peter Fonda, as well as several unidentified performers.

Film Clips include a screen glimpse of Sandra Dee, in scenes from Until They Sail (1957), The Restless Years (1958), The Reluctant Debutante (1958), A Stranger in My Arms (1959), Gidget (1959), A Summer Place (1959), Portrait in Black (1960), Come September (1961), If a Man Answers (1962), Tammy and the Doctor (1963), and That Funny Feeling (1965).

Television Clips include Sandra in a 1956 pop commercial and a 1959 shampoo commercial, plus Bobby Darin's performing at the Copacabana (circa 1966), in addition to television archive interviews with Sandra (c. 1961 and 1966).

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