Oscar Actors: Dennis, Sandy–Background, Career, Awards, Cumulative Advantage

Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: lower middle class; mother secretary; father postal clerk

Education: Lincoln High School; University of Nebraska, HB Studio, NYC


Stage Debut: 1957; age 20

Broadway Debut: “A Thousand Clowns,” 1961; age 24

Film Debut: Splendor in the Grass, 1961

Oscar Awards: 1, Supporting Actress, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” 1966; age 29.

Oscar Nominations: No

Other Awards: 2 Tony Awards (before winning the Oscar).

Career Span:

Last film:


Marriages: 2 long relationships; musician and actor (Eric Roberts)

Death: 1992 (ovarian cancer); age 54

Sandy Dennis was born on April 27, 1937 in Hastings, Nebraska, the daughter of Yvonne (née Hudson), a secretary, and Jack Dennis, a postal clerk. She had a brother, Frank. Dennis grew up in Kenesaw, Nebraska, and Lincoln, Nebraska, graduating from Lincoln High School in 1955.

She attended Nebraska Wesleyan University and the University of Nebraska, appearing in the Lincoln Community Theater Group before moving to New York City at the age of 19. She studied acting at HB Studio in New York City.

TV Debut

Dennis made her television TV debut in 1956 in the soap opera “The Guiding Light.” She had an early break when cast as an understudy in the Broadway production of Inge’s “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” (1957), directed by Elia Kazan.

Kazan cast Dennis in her first feature film, a small part in Splendor in the Grass (1961), which starred Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty.

Dennis was cast in Face of a Hero (1960) on Broadway alongside Jack Lemmon, which had only a short run. The Complaisant Lover (1961–62), co-starring Michael Redgrave and Googie Withers, by Graham Greene was more successful, running for 101 performances.  .

Dennis achieved Broadway fame with her leading role in Herb Gardner’s A Thousand Clowns (1962–1963), for which she won a Tony award for her performance alongside Jason Robards. The show ran for 428 performances.

She guest-starred on episodes of the TV series Naked City (“Idylls of a Running Back”, 1962, “Carrier”, 1963), The Fugitive (“The Other Side of the Mountain”, 1963), Arrest and Trial (“Somewhat Lower Than the Angels” 1964), and Mr. Broadway (“Don’t Mention My Name in Sheboygan”, 1964).

Dennis was the lead of the Broadway comedy Any Wednesday (1964–1966), which ran for 983 performances and won her a second Tony.

Supporting Actress Oscar

Dennis’s second film role was as Honey, the fragile, neurotic young wife of George Segal’s character, in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Directed by Mike Nichols and starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the film was a critical and commercial success and Dennis won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role.

Dennis returned to the stage for The Three Sisters (1966) with Geraldine Page and Kim Stanley, which went to London and was filmed.

Dennis’s first lead role in a movie was in Up the Down Staircase (1967), directed by Robert Mulligan which was a box office success. So too was The Fox (1967), directed by Mark Rydell, in spite of the controversial subject matter (lesbianism).

Dennis briefly returned to Broadway to star in Daphne in Cottage D (1967), which only had a short run.

She starred in Sweet November (1968), as a terminally ill woman who takes multiple lovers, and made a TV version of the play “A Hatful of Rain” (1968).

Dennis went to London to star in A Touch of Love (1969), which flopped at the box office. So too did That Cold Day in the Park (1969), directed by Robert Altman. However, The Out-of-Towners (1970), a Neil Simon comedy with Jack Lemmon, was a hit.

Dennis made a TV movie with Stuart Whitman, Only Way Out Is Dead (1970).

She went back to Broadway for How the Other Half Loves (1971) by Alan Ayckbourn which ran for over 100 performances, then did another TV movie Something Evil (1972) directed by Spielberg. Absurd Person Singular (1974–1976) was a big hit, running 591 performances.

Sandy Dennis died from ovarian cancer on March 2, 1992, at her home in Westport, Connecticut, at age 54.

Dennis lived with prominent jazz musician Gerry Mulligan from 1965 until they split up in 1974. She lived with actor Eric Roberts from 1980 to 1985.  After Dennis’s death, she was identified as bisexual.