Of Sandy Duncan and “Funny Face”

 

Sandy Duncan was born February 20, 1946 — which means that she was all of 25 when this TV Guide spread came out to promote her new sitcom Funny Face in 1971. The native Texan was only in her early 20s when she began getting cast in national TV commercials, and was 23 when cast in her first Broadway show Canterbury Tales (1969), followed by Love is a Time of Day (1969) and a revival of The Boyfriend (1970), and getting named one of Time magazine’s “most promising faces of tomorrow” in 1970. Then came her first feature film the Disney comedy Million Dollar Duck (1971) with Dean Jones and Joe Flynn, and Neil Simon’s The Star Spangled Girl (1971) with Tony Roberts and Todd Susman, in the role played by Connie Stevens on Broadway.

The Star Spangled Girl flopped at the box office, though the role of the young, wholesome all-American woman defiantly remaining traditional in the face of the craziness of the times was tailor-made for her, as was her first starring sitcom.

In Funny Face, Duncan played a perky, peppy young commercial actress. What could be better? Though she was widely praised for her comic abilities, the show itself was not. A bigger setback was the fact that Duncan had developed a brain tumor. She took time off for surgery and lost sight in one eye (although, contrary to urban legend she did not get a glass eye replacement like Peter Falk and Sammy Davis Jr). When she returned the following season the show had been retooled, with a new cast, a new setting, a new premise, and a new name: The Sandy Duncan Show. It wasn’t enough to save the program, which was cancelled in late 1972.

It’s okay! Duncan went on to do lots of great stuff, most of it family oriented. There was 1976 TV movie of Pinocchio with herself in the title role, Danny Kaye as Geppetto and Flip Wilson as the Fox, She was in the legendary Bigfoot episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman! She was in Roots and on The Love Boat! Next came more Disney stuff: The Cat from Outer Space (1978) with Ken Berry, Roddy McDowall and Harry Morgan; and The Fox and the Hound (1981).

In between, she’d starred in the Broadway revival of Peter Pan (1979-1981). I saw her do bits of it on TV, thus she was my first female Peter Pan, prior to discovering those earlier performances by Mary Martin, Cecilia Loftus, Maude Adams, Eva La Gallienne, and Betty Bronson, and whoever else. And of course that provided the gateway to the wider picture of the “Principal Boy”, drag kings, etc.

In 1984, she got her own show at Radio City Music Hall. From 1987 through 1991 she appeared on the sitcom The Hogan Family, previously known as Valerie but changed when Valerie Harper was ignominiously fired from her own show. After this Duncan did voiceovers in more animated films like Rock-a-Doodle (1991), and acted in tons and tons of live theatre, which is clearly her first and best love. Her most recent screen credits were as a judge in episodes of Law and Order: SVU in 2014 and 2015.