Annette Funicello, former Mousketeer favorite, and Sandra
Dee were described in very similar terms in their heyday. Cheery, prim Funicello
was hand-picked by Disney to appear on the hit launch of The Mickey Mouse Club.
Her mass popularity would foster a recording career, as well as the beach films, from which the rest of her career
would ride in nostalgia. "She's the perfect girl next door; she doesn't have
a bad bone in her body, she's the sweetest girl I know," her longtime co-star, Frankie Avalon would say of her. Perhaps she is remembered best by the words, "fun," "nice," and "cello" - meaning musical! - which are
encapsulated in her last name.
The iconic screen persona of Sandra Dee as the innocent
girl next door can be summarized by a 1959 popularity poll on the seventeen-year-old "Number One Star of Tomorrow": "Her wide
appeal to her own generation . . . stems from the fact that she seems to epitomize that nice 'girl next door' . . . today's
teenager beset by problems her own generation can sympathize with and understand . . . Nearly all these problems involve parental
relationships and dating, and Miss Dee solves them by relying on decent instincts and common sense." (Doherty, 160). Dee was married, like a Hollywood fairy tale, to her heartthrob co-star James
Darin at seventeen. When they separated, the Darren cited Dee's
alcoholism--which would follow her for the rest of her life--as a main reason.
As a sex symbol, Dee represents
oppositional qualities: demure and daring, innocent and sexy. Scheiner compares
this to the allure of Marilyn Monroe and similar actresses such as Mamie Van Doren, calling both screen personas "flipsides
of the same coin." (Scheiner, 89). We
can see reflections in even today's pop stars, as in Britney Spears' early career -- reproductions of the timeless, sexually
exploitative virgin myth.
Today, the movies are filled with younger and younger pop
stars who, like Spears and Funicello, began fame in childhood before they grew old enough to "stuff a wild bikini." Hillary Duff is the new Disney-monitored Funicello "good girl" while Mary Kate Olsen is the new troubled
anorexic Sandra Dee. The sexual climate of today bears many similarities to the
fifties -- a time when sexual repression produced so much heat it forged Marilyn Monroe.
The fifties also brought fame to another Hollywood icon, who brought fresh appeal the virgin-seductress
myth - Audrey Hepburn. In two films of the fifties, Sabrina, and Love in the
Afternoon, Hepburn plays a young girl on the borderline of womanhood who successfully entrances older playboys. Assuming a highly sensual veneer at first, she eventually wins their hearts with her truthful innocence
and purity. Oedipus, watch your ass!
"To be a real woman is to bring out the best in a man,"
hails Francie's grandmother's needlework pillow. Dolores may sing longingly of
Frankie, "If only I was nice to him, he would be here with me," but he’s not, and she’s singing it to the other
girls. Films like Easy Rider (1969) and The Graduate (1967)
would soon put the beach out of business. The age of "Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee" mockery, famed by Grease (1978),
had just begun, as the "strange discrepancy between the reality of our lives as women and the image to which we were trying
to conform" that Betty Friedan wrote of in the seminal 1963 The Feminine Mystique was beginning to reach the shores
of Hollywood. Yet when watching these films today, it's doesn’t feel like
things are all that different. The changing tide keeps washing up the same tacky
tidbits -- ditzy songs, good girl virgins in sexy outfits, the youth being sold their own repackaged sexual energy by the
adults trying to contain it, only with more sophisticated lighting and sound production. Surf’s up! +