Sandy Dennis was an American actress known for her animal activism and love for cats. However, she did not have a child of her own as she never wanted kids. Find out more about her.
Sandy Dennis made her film debut in the 1961 drama "Splendor in the Grass" before winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress a few years later for her starring role in the 1966 comedy-drama movie "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Sandy appeared in many films, with her last appearance coming in the 1991 crime drama movie "The Indian Runner." Besides acting, she was an animal rights activist and lived with many cats.
Sandy Dennis attends 22nd Annual Tony Awards on April 21, 1968 at Shubert Theater in New York City. | Photo: Getty Images
Sandy was never married, although she was rumored to be married to one man. Also, she never had kids and never liked the idea of motherhood. Find out more about her career, relationships, and love for cats.
SANDY'S EARLY LIFE
Sandy was born in Hastings, Nebraska, on April 27, 1937. Her mother, Yvonne Dennis, was a secretary, while her dad, Jack Dennis, was a postal clerk.
Eric Roberts and Sandy Dennis circa 1981 in New York. | Photo: Getty Images
She grew up in Kenesaw, Nebraska, and Lincoln, Nebraska. She attended Lincoln High School, which she graduated from in 1955. Sandy took up acting while in high school.
She went to Nebraska Wesleyan University, where she spent a semester. She spent another semester at the University of Nebraska before dropping out to join a summer stock company in New Hampshire. When Sandy was 19, she moved to New York City, studying acting at HB Studio.
Sandy Dennis Comforting Anne Heywood in scenes from the 1968 film The Fox. | Photo: Getty Images
Sandy kickstarted her acting career as an understudy in "Dark at the Top of the Stairs" in 1957. She nabbed her first film role portraying Natalie Wood's nasty friend in "Splendor in the Grass" in 1961.
In 1962, she was back on stage and starred alongside Jason Robards in "A Thousand Clowns." Her role in the film earned her a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1964, she got her first Broadway lead in "Any Wednesday" and won another Tony Award for Best Actress. She became a star afterward.
Robert Mulligan with Sandy Dennis; circa 1970; New York. | Photo: Getty Images
In 1966, Sandy and blistering romantic duo Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor starred in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The film earned Sandy an Oscar Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also struck up a friendship with her co-stars.
Sandy did not turn up for the Oscars in 1967 but watched the event from a New York restaurant. This action miffed the film industry, and she endured several fallow periods afterward.
Sandy stopped taking starring roles but excelled in portraying offbeat characters that interested her. Some of these roles included playing a lesbian in "The Fox," a photographer fixated on vegetables in "Four Seasons," and a memorable would-be suicide in the play "Absurd Person Singular."
Actress Sandy Dennis in the kitchen of her home with some of her cats gathered around her. | Photo: Getty Images
By 1968, Sandy had become a Box Office star and was the darling of film critics who wrote endearing articles about her. However, people started observing her maddening and intense mannerisms.
Initially, the comments about those mannerisms were cute, but they soon turned cruel, with Sandy facing criticisms about her style. However, she was always comfortable with the criticisms and seemed to thrive with them.
Sandy's mom, Yvonne, contributed to her early reputation for being a bit odd. According to Yvonne, on Sandy's first day in kindergarten, the teacher called home to report that she had dyslexia.
Sandy Dennis is distraught by the classroom antics of pupils in a scene from the film 'Up The Down Staircase', circa 1967. | Photo: Getty Images
The teacher reported that Sandy had recited the alphabet backward. However, Yvonne did not find the teacher's report surprising because she had taught her daughter to recite the alphabet that way. She and Sandy also played the ouija board backward.
Sandy starred in many more films and television dramas and enjoyed much success. Her last role came in 1991 when she starred in the crime drama "The Indian Runner," Sean Penn's debut as a director.
In the last years of her life, she lived with her cats and dogs and spent $4,000 per month taking care of them.
Portrait of Sandy Dennis on May 27, 1970. | Photo: Getty Images
SANDY'S SAD LOVE LIFE
Sandy did not have a steady man in her life. By 1976, she lived with her cats and a housekeeper in a rented eight-room home. She told People:
"I've never known a man who wanted to protect me. I'm looking for a terrific, grown-up man who shuts up—and doesn't tell me his problems."
The lack of men in Sandy's life was not for lack of trying, as she had two long-term romantic attachments. She had a ten-year affair with jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. Their relationship ended in 1975.
Portrait of Sandy Dennis smiling circa 1981 in New York City. | Photo: Getty Images
She also had an affair with actor Eric Roberts, who was younger than her by almost 20 years. Despite her relationships with both Roberts and Mulligan, Sandy was not attracted to them.
When asked why she was attracted to either man, Sandy could not mention one thing. Instead, she said Mulligan's knack for staying up all night and blowing his trumpet did not interest her.
Sandy described Mulligan as a very handsome man and Roberts as a very pretty boy, and that was about how deep her feelings for them went.
Studio portrait of Sandy Dennis on September 16, 1966. | Photo: Getty Images
Sandy was never married though she and Mulligan pretended to be so when she was pregnant in 1965. That pregnancy ended with a miscarriage, but the outcome did not greatly affect the actress. She said:
"If I'd been a mother, I would have loved the child, but I just didn't have any connection with it when I was pregnant…. I never ever wanted children. It would have been like having an elephant."
Roberts and Mulligan ultimately left Sandy after falling in love with younger women, but she did not feel greatly disturbed about their departures.
Sandy Dennis publicity portrait for the film 'The Fox', 1967. | Photo: Getty Images
Instead, she saw it as a great burden taken off her shoulders. After their departures, she devoted herself to being alone and saw herself as a solitary person.
Throughout her career, Sandy was subject to persistent rumors that she was a lesbian. However, none of those rumors were confirmed.
Meanwhile, the late Christopher Dennis, famous as the Hollywood Boulevard Superman, once claimed he was Sandy's illegitimate love child. However, he also claimed to be an orphan, causing confusion about which of his stories were true.
Studio portrait of Sandy Dennis circa 1966. | Photo: Getty Images
SANDY'S LOVE FOR CATS
Sandy loved animals and started collecting cats in 1965 after winning a Tony Award for "Any Wednesday" and catapulting herself into fame. By 1976, she already had 33 cats.
By 1989, she was caring for 37 cats and three dogs in her home. Despite taking care of many animals, Sandy's home was always clean as she strived to remove all stains and keep her home in perfect condition.
Sandy Dennis talking in a scene from the film 'The Out Of Towners', circa 1970. | Photo: Getty Images
Sandy inherited her love for cats from her mom. Yvonne brought home a stray cat one day and was told by the doctor that either the cat or her daughter would have to go because of Sandy's allergies.
When Yvonne turned to Sandy and told her what the doctor's words meant, the little Sandy knew then that she had to learn to cope with her allergies so that the cat could stay. She did just that.
In the last years of her life, she lived with her cats and dogs and spent $4,000 per month taking care of them. Yet, she loved doing it no matter the cost.
Actress Sandy Dennis at home with some of het cats circa 1989. | Photo: Getty Images
Sandy died of ovarian cancer on March 2, 1992, aged 54. She lived in Westport, Connecticut, with her mom, Yvonne, and was survived by her mom and her brother, Frank Dennis of Des Moines.
The actress lived an incredible life and enjoyed a successful acting career, and is remembered for her mannerisms on stage, love for cats, and loving personality.