Sandy Duncan’s front yard in Connecticut attracts a lot of admiration. People stop to marvel at the variety and colors of the flowers and sometimes even take pictures. “It’s so flattering,” she confides, admitting that she came by her green thumb naturally. “I come from farmers,” the Texas-born performer exclusively tells Closer. “My father and grandfather always had big gardens.”
A three-time Tony Award nominee who charmed the world in the 1979 revival of Peter Pan, Sandy also became a TV fixture starting with the sitcom Funny Face and ending with four seasons on The Hogan Family. “I never minded signing autographs or taking pictures with people,” Sandy, 78, says of her years in the spotlight. “Also, acting’s not a hard job. It’s full of joy and working with nice people.”
Sandy first began dancing as a child growing up in Tyler, Texas. “We’d go into the VFW hall and hold on to the pool tables to do our ballet barre!” recalls the performer, who began appearing in musicals in Dallas as a teenager and moved to New York City at 19. Her big break arrived in 1969 with a Broadway show called Canterbury Tales. It brought Sandy her first Tony nomination, but it also forced her to pass on another role she really wanted. “It was a part I got off-Broadway. I really liked it,” she says. “I liked the director. I really wanted to do the show because I thought it was going to be a hit — which it was.” Sandy’s agent convinced her to take the role on Broadway instead, much to her regret. “I’ve always felt bad that I had that opportunity, but couldn’t take it,” she says.
In 1971, Sandy debuted on TV in Funny Face, a sitcom in which she starred as a college student working part-time as a commercial actress. During filming, Sandy, then 24, developed intense headaches, which turned out to be a brain tumor growing behind her left eye. She underwent surgery that saved her life but left her blind in one eye.
Other people might have been devastated, but Sandy persevered. “I found through the experience that it wasn’t the worst thing that can happen to people,” she says. “I adjusted to it very quickly and just went on about my business.” There have been mishaps caused by her lack of depth perception, like accidentally falling into the orchestra pit during a performance of Peter Pan, but Sandy is grateful to be healthy. “Sometimes I’ll reach for a glass and miss it, but that’s a small price to pay.”
For many years, she was a frequent guest star on TV variety series and game shows. She played against type as a villain in the blockbuster 1977 miniseries Roots and starred in an ad campaign for Wheat Thins crackers. In 1987, Sandy joined the cast of The Hogan Family after Valerie Harper left the sitcom previously titled Valerie in a dispute. “I miss the guys on that show,” Sandy says. “We were all very close.”
After The Hogan Family went off the air, in 1991, Sandy and her husband, actor and choreographer Don Correia, took stock of their lives. The couple had wed in 1980 after meeting on a variety show where they were dance partners. “We’re crazy in love and have been ever since we were in our early 30s,” Sandy says. “We respect each other, and we also laugh a lot.”
They decided to move their then-grammar school-age sons, Jeffrey and Michael, away from the bright lights of Hollywood. “I didn’t want to raise my two kids in LA with that sort of atmosphere. I wanted them to be street smart, learn to be social with people, and not be taxied everywhere. It’s an unreal kind of life,” she explains.
Following a move to New York, Sandy concentrated on theater, which had always been her first love. Playing Chicago’s Roxie Hart in the national touring company and on Broadway has been among her favorite show business experiences. “I really loved that role and the show,” she says. “I thought it was smart.”
Today, Sandy’s life revolves around her husband and growing family. “We have two grandkids now,” she says. “The older one is really smart. He calls me Sassy, and he calls my husband Don-Don. He says, ‘Come here, Sassy, I have something to show you.’ ”
Her older grandson, who is 4, has seen a tape of her famous performance as Peter Pan. “He’s also heard me on Scooby-Doo. He knows my voice,” she says proudly.
She admits that she’d prefer if her grandkids didn’t set their hopes on a career in showbiz. “It’s a great business if you’re able to have some success,” she says. “But the struggle for many, many people is discouraging and heartbreaking. So, it’s a double-edged sword.”
As for Sandy, she still reads scripts, but she would only return to Broadway for the right project. “To leave the life I have and commute into New York every day, eight shows a week,” she says, “it’d have to be a really special part to make me give up all that I have here and with my family.”