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Dennis Letts
Born (1934-09-05)September 5, 1934
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died February 22, 2008(2008-02-22) (aged 73)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Occupation Educator, actor
Spouse(s) Billie Gipson (m. 1958)
Children 3, sons Dana, Tracy, and Shawn

Dennis Letts (September 5, 1934 – February 22, 2008) was an American college professor, and later, in a second career, an actor. As the latter, he originated the critically successful role of Beverly Weston in the Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of the Tony-winning play August: Osage County in the summer of 2007, the writing of which had earned his son, Tracy Letts, a Pulitzer prize.[1]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Dennis Letts was born in Oklahoma City on September 5, 1934.[2] He grew up with his parents, Hazel (Brady) and Charles Haskell Letts, in Wagoner, Oklahoma.[3] He graduated from Wagoner High School in 1952. He enlisted in the United States Air Force after graduation, where he served until 1956.[2]

Letts received his bachelor's degree from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, thanks to the G.I. Bill. He went on to earn his master's degree from the University of Tulsa and his doctorate from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He also earned a Fulbright Scholarship.[2]

Letts married his wife, novelist Billie Gipson, in 1958; the couple had three sons: Dana, Tracy (a playwright), and Shawn (a jazz musician/composer).[2][4][5]

Career[edit | edit source]

Letts spent much of his professional career as a writing and English professor.[1] He taught for more than thirty years, mostly as a faculty member at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma.[1]

Letts first began acting at the relatively late age of 50 years.[6][7] Letts first started performing at university and community theaters while still working as a college professor.[1] He began acting as a full second career after retiring from teaching.[1] Letts appeared in more than 40 films and television shows over the course of his career, including parts in high-profile films such as Cast Away in 2000.[2]

His acting credits also included his debut in Bloodsuckers from Outer Space, a science fiction comedy film written and directed by Glen Coburn, Where the Heart Is, a film based on a novel written by his wife, Billie Letts. He served as an editor for his wife's novels,[1] which won various literary awards and have appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list.[2]

August: Osage County[edit | edit source]

Letts premiered the role of Beverly Weston in the original production of August: Osage County, which was written by his son, Tracy Letts.[1] His character is described as an "Oklahoma patriarch" whose mysterious disappearance reunites his dysfunctional family.[1] August: Osage County first opened at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in the summer of 2007.[1] The show, as well as Letts's performance, was a critical success.[1]

Illness/death[edit | edit source]

Letts was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2007.[1] Despite his diagnosis, Letts chose to remain with the August: Osage County production as the show moved to New York City. The show, with Letts as a full cast member, debuted on Broadway in December 2007.[1] It earned some of the best critical reviews of that particular season.[1] He continued performing eight shows a week of August: Osage County in New York City until February 2008.[1][7] He kept up his schedule despite his illness and its treatment.[1] Letts died in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on February 22, 2008, at the age of 73.[1] A memorial service was held in Wagoner, Oklahoma.[6] He was survived by his wife, Billie (died 2014), and sons, Tracy, Dana and Shawn.[1]

Filmography[edit | edit source]

Year Title Role Notes
1984 Bloodsuckers from Outer Space General Sanders
1985 Tabloid
1987 Square Dance Bob Hadley
1988 Johnny Be Good Army General
1988 It Takes Two Bus Clerk
1988 Heartbreak Hotel Alan Fortas
1991 The Man in the Moon Doc White
1991 Rush Senior District Attorney
1992 Passenger 57 Frank Allen
1992 Sidekicks Man with Dog
1993 A Perfect World Governor
1995 Gordy Governor
1995 Frank and Jesse Railroad C.E.O.
1997 Keys to Tulsa Preston Liddy
1997 Little Boy Blue Sgt. Phillips
1997 Fire Down Below Doctor Schultz
2000 Where the Heart Is Sheriff
2000 Cast Away Dennis Larson
2003 Secondhand Lions Sheriff
2004 Christmas Child Judge
2006 Infamous Judge Tate (final film role)

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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