There are entertainers who eventually become icons. We recognize them wherever we see them. Others manage to fade into the background in their personal lives. Yet we still admire them for their performances, versatility, and prolific careers. One example is the American actress Sandy Duncan.
Sandy Duncan only had a few major hits in her career, yet her work spanned television, film, and theater.
Her career began in the 1950s when she acted in a local production of The King and I. She would later become one of America’s most passionate theater performers.
But she also known for her roles in sitcoms such as The Hogan Family and even her own short-lived The Sandy Duncan Show also known as Funny Face.
Her film career includes roles in The Million Dollar Duck, The Fox and the Hound, and The Swan Princess.
Let’s dive deeper to learn more about Sandy Duncan then and now…
Sandy Duncan was born in 1946 in the small town of Henderson, Texas and raised in the nearby city of Tyler.
Her beginnings were both humble and unlikely. She was the daughter of a gas station owner and no one in her family had any connections in show business. Yet, her childhood appearances at the Dallas Theater were enough for her to learn the ropes of the entertainment industry.
She began to meet many great entertainers such as Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Ginger Rogers. These stars would teach her about how to succeed in the otherwise ruthless and highly competitive industry.
At age 19, she left her small town of Henderson, Texas to make her name on stage in New York City. She knew, however, that she’d face a lot of competition and that many aspiring actresses end up failing.
As a result, she put all her energy into her work. She found early success with a role in a play called The Boyfriend. Her performance in the play impressed producer Fred Silverman who decided to offer her work in film and television.
While she continued to work in theater, she now also known as a prolific TV actress. It was during this time that she starred in a short-lived sitcom called Funny Face. While audiences and critics alike loved the show, it never managed to become a major hit.
Nevertheless, Sandy Duncan became a household name on television. In 1974, she starred in Sandy in Disneyland and The Sandy Duncan Special. She also became a regular on many variety shows and talk shows. These included Hollywood Squares, The $10,000 Pyramid, The Mike Douglas Show, The Dick Cavett Show, and The Merv Griffin Show.
These appearances brought her fame and made audiences warm up to her sunny personality and many talents. As her fame grew, the opportunities kept coming her way. In the mid-1970s, she became the spokeswoman for Wheat Thins, appearing in many commercials for the snack well into the 1980s.
But it wasn’t just television where she made her name. She also had starring roles in the films The Million Dollar Duck and Star Spangled Girl.
While many actors and actresses struggle to find work, Sandy found work in abundance. While she never catapulted to stardom as some other actresses of her generation such as Faye Dunaway or Jane Fonda, she developed a cult following.
She remained relevant by continuously working. When she wasn’t acting in theater, film, or television, she was making appearances in variety shows and giving interviews on talk shows.
However, this constant working did come with a price. She faced a major hurdle in her life and would now face the biggest test of her career…
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With so much work, Sandy Duncan barely got any rest. While she kept getting work, her films The Million Dollar Duck and Star Spangled Girl were major flops. Nevertheless, her acting was appreciated, and she kept getting more work.
As a result, she continued to work relentlessly. Eventually she began feeling incredibly sick. This sickness led to a benign brain tumor in her left eye. She underwent surgery to have this tumor removed and loss sight in her left eye. However, she kept her eye as is and didn’t replace it with a prosthetic eye.
This event must have shaken Sandy, yet you’d never know it. While she decided to take her health more seriously, she had no intention of slowing down. She wasn’t going to let this incident put an end to her career.
There’s a short revival of Funny Face and it was now renamed The Sandy Duncan Show. While her fans were happy to see her back, the show still didn’t manage to become a major hit – just like it’s earlier version.
Naturally, she must have worried about the future of her career. Her fans may have worried if they’d continue seeing her great performances.
Then in 1979, she received the role of a lifetime as Peter Pan in the Broadway musical of J.M. Barrie’s famous play. This became one of her favorite performances and one that her fans will always remember.
Part of the role required her to be suspended 20 feet in the air, yet she didn’t complain. She never missed a performance during Peter Pan’s run and received a Tony nomination for her work.
This performance proved that Sandy Duncan was back in business and that she wasn’t going anywhere!
It was during this time that she became the spokeswoman for Wheat Thins. It also at this time, that Sandy had divorced for the second time in her life. Her first marriage was to actor Bruce Scott from 1968 to 1972. She claimed that the divorce occurred because he couldn’t handle her success and growth.
Years later, she would marry one of the consulting surgeons for her tumor removal Dr. Thomas Calcaterra. The marriage ended in divorce after six years in 1979. According to Sandy, her husband wanted her to be a stay-at-home housewife and not pleased with her ambitions as an actress.
However, in 1980 she married the love of her life – actor, dancer, and choreographer Don Correia. They had met while working on a variety show back in 1971. They now live in New York City and have two sons, Jeffrey and Michael.
The 1980s continued to be great for Sandy’s career. At the time, there was a popular NBC-produced sitcom called Valerie which starred Valerie Harper as the titular character. While the show was a success, the producers eventually had a falling out with their lead actress. Valerie Harper was eventually fired after the second season and her character was killed off in the storyline.
As a result, the producers knew that if the show had to go on the sitcom would need some reworking. The show was retitled The Hogan Family, and Sandy Duncan played the character of Sandy Hogan. She played the sister of the character Michael Hogan (played by Josh Taylor) and became the mother-figure for the show.
The Hogan Family continued to be a hit and audiences praised Sandy Duncan as a welcome replacement for Valerie Harper. The show lasted until 1991.
The late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, proved to be a winning streak for Sandy Duncan. In addition to her theater work, she also had a role in the classic show The Love Boat as well as Roots, one of the most celebrated American mini-series of all time.
In the 1980s and 1990s, she also showed her talents in animated films The Fox and the Hound and The Swan Princess.
Her theater work continued in great productions such as Chicago, The Witches of Eastwick, Driving Miss Daisy, The Glass Menagerie, and Finding Neverland. She even gave a performance in a 2004 production of The King and I, the very play with which she started her career!
One of her most recent performances was as herself in Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? This was in an episode called “The Dreaded Remake of Jekyll and Hyde.” As a younger actress, she appeared as herself in an episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies called “Sandy Duncan’s Jekyll and Hyde!”
It showed that even in 2020, Sandy Duncan had such a following that she could appear as herself in a role.
Today, she seems to have finally embraced the slow-paced lifestyle. She spends most of her time at home in New York with her husband. She continues to get offers and takes a project if it excites her.
What makes Sandy Duncan an inspiration, is that she has managed to sustain a career from her pre-teens to her seventies! While she never became an icon, she managed to become famous enough that she was in-demand for variety shows, talk shows, and cameo experiences throughout her career.
While she had a few hits and many misses, her performances were always loved. They were loved then, and they are loved now. We expect that audiences will continue watching her performances for years to come!
So what do you think about Sandy Duncan’s remarkable career? Do you think she never got the recognition she deserved? Or will she be remembered as one of America’s most prolific and versatile actresses?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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