Goodbye to Sandra Dee

One of the highlights of my young life in the summer of 1978 was when my mother took me to see Grease at the theater inside Chapel Hill Mall. Only one other friend on my street had seen the movie, and it was due to her review that I begged my mother to take me.

I remember Mom embarrassed me in front of the young girl at the ticket counter when she asked if there was anything inappropriate for a child to see. The girl said there was a scene where some boys mooned everyone, but since I had no idea what that even meant, I turned pleading eyes on my mother.

A quick purchase of tickets and popcorn occurred, and the next thing I knew, Mom and I were sitting in a darkened theater where movie magic was about to take place.

Fast forward to August 8, 2022, and all my summer dreams are ripped at the seams. When I heard that Olivia Newton-John had passed away, I felt a small piece of my childhood slip from my grasp. Obviously, I never knew Olivia Newton-John, but what a shock that someone from my era had died. I actually missed this talented lady who I never met.

The first opportunity I had, I rewatched Grease. Great memories resurfaced, and I’ve had the songs stuck in my head for days now and enjoyed many of the dance scenes on YouTube.

In 1978, all I remember about the movie was that Sandy and Danny liked each other, hit some bumps along the way, and eventually got together, which is all that really mattered to me. One of my biggest joys was to relive this happily-ever-after scenario every time my cousin and I listened to her two-record copy of the original soundtrack.

Also, I made my husband watch the made-for-TV version every time it came on. I knew it was edited, but I didn’t realize how much until I took him to the theater to watch the 25th Anniversary re-release. Like a good sport, he had accepted that it was our movie, but boy did I get a surprise! It was as if I saw Grease for the first time.

All the bawdy comments and innuendo, the issue of teen pregnancy, and the drinking and smoking that had flown right over the head of the dance scene-loving grade-schooler I used to be was painfully apparent. I did pick up a titch of these things in the TV versions, but wow . . . And I understand the live stage version is even raunchier.

So, what’s my takeaway as I rewatch Grease this time around? First, I understand why my mother sat beside me quite stiffly if not exactly squirming. Second, I’m still picking up on the quickly delivered one-liners that I wouldn’t want an eight-year-old to hear.

This time, however, what really jumped out at me was the scene where Sandy has just watched Danny win the car race at Thunder Road. It’s evident that she wants to be part of the fun but doesn’t know how to join in. The lyrics of “wholesome and pure/oh so scared and unsure” don’t exactly go together except for the fact that the last words rhyme. What I mean is, the qualities of being wholesome and pure don’t lead to fear and insecurity, and it doesn’t mean your ignorant or boring.

Knowing that Sandy’s transformation to a sultry bad girl was about to take place made the lines somewhat awkward, especially since I’ve read some commentaries and reviews suggesting that Sandy was nothing more than a pathetic people pleaser who sacrificed herself, her desires, and any happiness just to maintain an unrealistic image. Now that’s pathetic.

Being kind and truthful without compromising your morals is never the wrong thing to do. Hopefully, Sandy’s wardrobe change doesn’t lead one to believe that to have fun, you must take up bad habits and look promiscuous. Notice during the “Summer Nights” routine that Sandy was quite happy and having a ball. True, Danny deceived her by not representing himself accurately at the beach, but this was no excuse for her to abandon common decency in appearance and actions.

What bothered me more was that once Sandy was in her Spandex-clad, off-the-shoulder top, high-heeled sandals ensemble, she never took a moment to recognize that Danny made the effort to change for her by lettering in track. Was a moment of compromise missed?

Let’s not forget that Rizzo, who did play fast and loose, longed for the same things Sandy did and ended up almost wrecking her life by pursuing her passions in the wrong way. I also believe it’s because Rizzo didn’t know how to handle her envious nature that she attempted to undermine Sandy at every turn. Only when she confronted her own actions in the song “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” did she begin to change.

But I’m still a little troubled that Sandy getting in touch with her inner vixen is the last thing a young person would remember. Are we to assume that being a bad-girl greaser is preferable? It’s as if the movie is saying, “If you want to be accepted by the popular kids, you’re going to have to be a little naughty.” Sadly, this is true but only if your ultimate goal in school is to hang out with the cool kids.

Unfortunately, it’s also true in society in general. More than ever, we live in a world that wants you to accept whatever is being pushed. If you chose not to, woe unto you, O Intolerant One. Stay strong and don’t buy into the lie that you must compromise your morals, kindness, or truthfulness just to be accepted and have fun. Please note that happiness isn’t even an offer on that table.

Sound a little heavy? Perhaps. Will I still watch Grease and enjoy it? Yes. How is this possible? Because I can view it through physically and spiritually mature eyes. I have lived this situation several times in my life. I excelled sometimes, and other times I had to readjust. The important thing is to keep learning.

So, thank you, Sandy, for giving me a lot to think about through the years. We’ll always be together.

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