SANDRA DEE, pert blond icon, couldn't really help it. She really was (still is, actually) tiny and blond with a round face and a pert nose. At the age of 16 she kissed some of the handsomest hunks around in those innocent times at the cusp of the '60s: Troy Donahue, John Gavin etc. She married a pop star, a guy with No. 1 hits. And that image stayed with her.

She was a phenomenon of times when a steamy kiss without nudity was enough to fire up an audience of adolescents. She also was from the last generation of studio stars (in her case, Universal). Her public image was created by the studio publicity machine, and her roles in films like "Romanoff and Juliet," and "Tammy, Tell Me True" fed the public's expectation of her -- Gidget, the Bobby Soxer, the girl next door.

Off the screen she grew up. She had a child. Got a divorce. Was reconciled and then lost her husband, which is how she refers to him. His name was Bobby Darin. He died in 1973.

Recently, Dee turned 40. For the past two years she has been "on the road." Doing episodes on television. Doing theater tours ("I've done most of Neil Simon.") although she confesses to being "afraid of a live audience." A telephone call finds her at home in Benedict Canyon after six grueling weeks on location in Utah with a film whose working title is "Skipper." and she is trying to get back into the L.A. swing of things, but her mind is still very much on the film.

It's a part that offers her a chance to get away from the Gidget image that has followed her through life even though she only made the first one in the series. "It's way out for me. People aren't used to seeing me dirty and with cows." The film is about a woman from the city who goes to the country to live on a farm with her 8-year-old. It's about her troubles trying to make adjustments to a new way of life. "It could be my story. I've never milked a cow or hung laundry on a line," she confesses.

The film was shot in a town about 5 1/2 hours from Salt Lake City. "There was one phone where we were staying and it was in my room. There was no drugstore. We were working 19-hour days." Her earlier experience didn't really prepare her for this sort of filming. "Ross Hunter didn't teach me much about nature. We had Cartier, Tiffany's and roses on the set."

She isn't sure when the film will be out, but in the meantime Gidget is still following her around. "I can't lose it. People say, 'You were in all those beach movies.' But really I was only in the first 'Gidget,' and in 'A Summer Place' Troy and I just had one scene walking on the beach," she says with a touch of resignation.

Her image even follows her when she goes to the movies. Recently she went to see "Diner," a film about growing up in the '50s. In the film there is a scene where the guys and their girls go to the movies. What's showing? "A Summer Place," one of Dee's most famous films. "I started sinking in my seat when it came on. I had no idea. There was nowhere to hide. I was so embarrassed I stayed in my seat till the film was over and the promo for the next one came up."

Nevertheless, discussions are going on for a TV series about Gidget grown up. "They've spoken to me. They want it to be Gidget 10 years later. I think it should be 15." She would have a child. She would not be a beach bunny. "I told them I won't get on a surfboard. The child can be on the surfboard."

About her personal life she is somewhat reticent. Her son Dodd, 20, prefers to keep his life his own. She say she is not seeing anyone in particular. "Not now. It makes life simpler. I have my career, my boy and the house. That's enough to keep anyone busy."

Dee says she needs to work and has two television shows and two films lined up. Her goal is to do "one thing I'm really proud of." She has no ideal role she would like to play. She reads constantly, looking for a property that she could obtain and develop for herself. So far she hasn't had much luck. "Every time I read a book it's already been bought."

One final question about the past: Was Troy Donahue a good kisser? Dee pauses for a couple of moments. "I don't remember . . . I was only 15 or 16," she says matter-of-factly. Then she giggles, "Actually, I take the Fifth Amendment on that one." Then she adds, "The only kiss I really remember was my late husband's first kiss."