Nick Dennis

Active - 1947 - 1977  |   Born - in Greece  |   Died - Nov 14, 1980 in Los Angeles, CA  |   Genres - Drama, Adventure, Western, Mystery

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Greek-born actor Nick Dennis may have been short of stature, but that didn't prevent him from cutting a prominent and memorable image onscreen (and on-stage) in a career that crossed 40 years and two coasts. Indeed, his diminutive physique was more than matched by an outsized talent, and an ability to steal almost any scene he was in, working among the stars of whatever the production happened to be. Dennis was born in Thessaly in 1904, and his American stage career dated from the mid-'30s. He made his debut on Broadway in September 1935 playing a telegraph boy in the Howard Lindsay/Damon Runyon comedy A Slight Case of Murder; and in April 1936, he played a thug in the original Broadway production of Richard Rodgers' and Lorenz Hart's On Your Toes, starring Ray Bolger. His other early stage credits included On Borrowed Time and The World We Make, of which only the latter was a conspicuous success at the time. He continued to find steady work through the Second World War and beyond, including roles in José Ferrer's Broadway production of Cyrano De Bergerac. It was around the time of the latter's run that he made his big-screen debut with a role in the New York-filmed drama A Double Life (1947). But it was the part of Pablo Gonzales in A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan, that brought him to Hollywood, to appear in the Kazan-directed film version.

Dennis' screen credits multiplied by the dozens over the next few years, in pictures such as Sirocco (1951) and Eight Iron Men (1952), as well as television work on anthology shows such as Fireside Theatre. Kazan used him in East of Eden (1955), and Robert Aldrich gave him the role of extrovert garage mechanic and car enthusiast Nick in Kiss Me Deadly, which also offered him a prominent exit scene and key role in the plot. It was in that picture, with Dennis running on all cylinders, so to speak, that one could see him at his flamboyant best, stealing at least two key scenes from star Ralph Meeker. Aldrich also used Dennis in The Big Knife, and he would show up in numerous films and television shows across the 1950s, sometimes in delightfully bizarre moments; in a gypsy wedding scene in Nicholas Ray's Hot Blood, his character is leading a trained bear on a leash. Dennis became something of a cinematic specialty act during this period with his outsized, flamboyant persona, and he was much-loved by audiences in all genres. Additionally, he appeared in dozens of television shows over the next six years, and it was television where he made his biggest long-term impression as an actor. In 1962, he became a regular, recurring character as hospital orderly Nick Kanavaras on Ben Casey, where he frequently provided lighter moments in the drama. Following the series' cancellation, he continued to work, mostly in television, into the mid-'70s, including several made-for-TV features and a string of appearances on the series Kojak, starring Telly Savalas.

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