In the late 1950s and 1960s, Sandra Church was in the casts of several Broadway plays and musicals, including Picnic, Under the Yum-Yum Tree, and especially Gypsy, in which she played Louise (who later takes the name Gypsy Rose Lee), for which she earned a Tony® nomination.
Born in San Francisco in 1933, Church got her start on Broadway in 1953 as a replacement in William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Picnic, which marked Paul Newman’s Broadway debut; the play also won Tony® (for director Joshua Logan) and Theatre World (for Paul Newman and Eileen Heckart) Awards.
In 1957, Church starred opposite Don Ameche in Ronald Alexander’s comedy Holiday for Lovers. Ameche plays the psychologist Robert Dean and Church his sarcastic daughter, Betsy. The play was soon made into a film with Clifton Webb and Carol Lynley as the father and daughter.
The following year Church played Helen White in Christopher Sergel’s play Winesburg, Ohio, based on Sherwood Anderson’s celebrated 1919 collection of stories set in Ohio. A flop, the play closed after thirteen performances.
Church’s next outing on Broadway, by contrast, would prove a giant hit. In 1959 she starred alongside Ethel Merman and Jack Klugman in the now-classic musical Gypsy, inspired by the memoirs of the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. A brilliant team collaborated on the work, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Although Ethel Merman, as Rose, dominated the show with numbers like “Small World” and “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” Church herself – the first to deliver the take-it-off anthem “Let Me Entertain You” – earned a Tony® nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
For her last appearance on Broadway, Church starred as Robin Austin, the love interest in Lawrence Roman’s romantic comedy Under the Yum-Yum Tree (1960), playing alongside Gig Young and Dean Jones (who reprised his role as Dave Manning in the 1963 film version, with Jack Lemmon and Carol Lynley).
On film, Church played Marion MacWhite opposite Marlon Brando in The Ugly American (1963). Her television credits include appearances on “Producers’ Showcase,” “Look Up and Live,” “The Eleventh Hour,” “Kraft Suspense Theatre,” and “The Doctors and the Nurses.”