With her distinctive, some say irritating, high-pitched voice, her nervous mannerisms, and her tendency to stammer and mutter her way through lines, Sandy Dennis was one of the most easily recognizable serious actresses of stage and screen during the '60s and '70s. Dennis started out appearing in community theater and then moved to New York where she studied at the Actors Studio where she became a staunch proponent of Method acting. In 1961, Dennis made her film debut with a supporting role in Elia Kazan's romantic melodrama Splendor in the Grass. Dennis spent the next few years on Broadway winning two successive Tony Awards two years in a row for her performances in A Thousand Clowns and Any Wednesday. In 1966, she made an auspicious sophomore film appearance playing the chirpy, naïve sexpot wife of young college professor George Segal in Mike Nichol's gut-wrenching marital drama Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (1966), which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The role won Dennis an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and was to influence most of her subsequent roles by getting her somewhat typecast as bewildered young women who manage to be both tough and vulnerable. In 1967, she played another memorable role as a new school teacher trying to help students in one of NYC's worst schools in Up the Down Staircase. Though her career as a movie star held great promise, Dennis primarily remained a stage actress and by the mid-'70s, she worked less frequently in films. Dennis did, however, briefly return to prominence in the early '80s after appearing in such films as Alan Alda's The Four Seasons (1981) and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982). Afterwards, she basically disappeared from films until 1988 when she made a memorable cameo as a cynical alcoholic actress in Woody Allen's Another Woman. Dennis made her final appearance playing a cameo role in actor Sean Penn's directorial debut Indian Runner in 1991. At the time, the 54-year-old Dennis was battling ovarian cancer; it was a battle she lost the following year.
Biography by Sandra Brennan
- Was a high-school classmate of TV talk-show host Dick Cavett.
- Moved to New York City following high school and made her Broadway debut in the 1957 play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.
- Followed up her 1961 film debut, Splendor in the Grass, with an Oscar-winning performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).
- Became known for an off-beat style of acting that lent itself to eccentric roles.
- Was a longtime animal lover known to house numerous cats in her Connecticut home.