Diana Sands

Diana Patricia Sands[3] (August 22, 1934  September 21, 1973) was an American actress, perhaps most known for her portrayal of Beneatha Younger, the sister of Sidney Poitier's character in the original stage and film versions of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (1961).

Diana Sands
Photograph of Sands taken by Carl Van Vechten, 1963.
Diana Patricia Sands

(1934-08-22)August 22, 1934
DiedSeptember 21, 1973(1973-09-21) (aged 39)
New York City, New York, U.S.
EducationMusic & Art High School
Years active1951–1973
Known forBeneatha Younger – A Raisin in the Sun
Lucien Happersberger
(m. 1964; div. 1966)
Partner(s)Curt Baker

Sands also appeared in a number of dramatic television series in the 1960s and 1970s such as I Spy, as Davala Unawa in the 1967 The Fugitive episode "Dossier on a Diplomat", Dr. Harrison in the Outer Limits episode "The Mice", and Julia.[4] Sands also starred in the 1963 film An Affair of the Skin as the narrator and photographer, Janice. For her work, Sands was twice nominated for a Tony Award and twice nominated for an Emmy Award.[5]


Early life and education

Diana Patricia Sands was born one of three children in the Bronx, New York City, on August 22, 1934 to Rudolph Sands, a Bahamian carpenter, and Shirley (née Thomas), a milliner. For her early education, Sands attended elementary school in Elmsford, New York. Sands enrolled at the Music & Art High School (which is now identified as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School) in 1949, where she was a classmates of Diahann Carroll and Billy Dee Williams.[6] During high school, Sands received her first role in the school production of George Bernard Shaw's "Major Barbara". After graduation from high school in 1953, Sands began her professional career as a dancer; touring with a traveling carnival.


In 1959, Sands landed the role of Beneatha Younger for the Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. Two years later, in 1961 Sands co-starred alongside Claudia McNeil, Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee for the film version of the play.

Sands later became a member of the Actors Studio,[7] In 1964, Sands was in a production of James Baldwin's Blues for Mr. Charlie. Her performance was noted as a highlight of the show. Sands didn't continue the role due to a subsequent London engagement that Sands had previously committed, the original Broadway production of The Owl and the Pussycat; co-starring Alan Alda. For her role in the production, Sands was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.[8]

In 1970, Sands co-starred in the film The Landlord, and then appeared in Doctors' Wives and Georgia, Georgia. During this time, Sands met musician Bob Dylan. In his memoirs, Dylan tells of meeting Sands at a party and states that she was, "an electrifying actress who I might have been secretly in love with ..."[9][10] In 1972, Sands was sought to provide a track for the Original New York Cast album of Free to Be... You and Me. However, Sands had died by the time the ABC Afterschool Special had begun production and her previously recorded vocal track was not selected for inclusion. During the fall of 1972, Sands filmed Honeybaby, Honeybaby on location in Beirut, Lebanon co-starring Calvin Lockhart. According to Lockhart, Sands went to a local hospital during the filming in Lebanon; stating his belief that Sands knew she was seriously ill.[11] In early 1973, Sands returned to New York City and began filming Willie Dynamite, a blaxploitation film starring alongside Roscoe Orman.

In late-August 1973, Sands began filming Claudine alongside James Earl Jones in Harlem section of New York. [12] According to an October 1973 article in Jet, Sands later collapsed during the filming and was rushed to a local hospital in early–September 1973. Upon surgery, Doctors discovered a cancerous growth in Sands' abdomen, which was diagnosed as pancreatic cancer.[13] Sands had only began filming a week earlier when she collapsed.[14] Due to her aggressive illness, Sands was unable to film and suggested to producers that her longtime friend Diahann Carroll replace her in the film;[15] in which Carroll was selected.

Personal, death and legacy

Sands was married once and had no children. From October 1964 until 1966, Sands was married to Swiss artist Lucien Happersberger.[1][16][17] At the time of her death, Sands was engaged Curt Baker who was an assistant film director. On September 21, 1973, Sands died of leiomyosarcoma at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City; aged 39.[18] Sands memorial service was held on October 5, 1973 at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Manhattan, New York.[14] Junior High School 147, located in the Bronx, New York, was named in Sands' honor.

Selected Credits


Year Production Role Theatre(s) Notes
1969 The Gingham Dog[19] John Golden Theatre
1968 Saint Joan[20] Joan Vivian Beaumont Theater
Tiger at the Gates[21] Cassandra Vivian Beaumont Theater
We Bombed in New Haven[22] Ruth Ambassador Theatre
1965 The Premise[23] The Premise Improvisational theatre with material by the performers.
1964 Blues for Mister Charlie[24] Juanita ANTA Playhouse Tony Award nomination, Best Featured Actress in a Play[25]
The Owl and the Pussycat[26] Doris W. ANTA Playhouse
Royale Theatre
Tony Award nomination, Best Actress in a Play[25]
1963 The Living Premise[27] Obie Award, Distinguished Performance
1962 Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright[28] Adelaide Smith Booth Theatre Theatre World Award[25]
1959 A Raisin in the Sun[29] Beneatha Younger Ethel Barrymore Theatre
Belasco Theatre
Outer Critics Circle Award, Best Drama Performance[30]

Partial filmography


  1. Jet, April 21, 1966
  2. The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate ... By Nicholas Buccola
  3. Jet, May 21, 1970
  4. Jet, Mar 19, 1970
  5. Brown, Stacia. "Diana Sands: What Was and What Could've Been". Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  6. Sepia, Volume 26, Issues 7-12, 1977
  7. Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of the Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 280. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
  8. Garfield, David (1980). "Venture Into Production: The Actors Studio Theatre". A Player's Place: The Story of the Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 241. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
  9. Dylan, Bob (2004). Chronicles:Volume One. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc. p. 67.
  10. Bob Dylan: No Direction Home - By Robert Shelton
  11. Jet, Jun 20, 1974
  12. Jet, Aug 23, 1973
  13. Jet, Oct 4, 1973
  14. Jet, Oct 11, 1973
  15. CBS News - Diahann Carroll, pioneering actress and Oscar nominee, has died at age 84 - OCTOBER 4, 2019
  16. Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America - By Christopher Bram
  17. Jet, Jul 22, 1965
  18. Ebony, Jan 1974
  19. "The Gingham Dog". United States: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  20. "Saint Joan". United States: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  21. "Tiger at the Gates". United States: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  22. "We Bombed in New Haven". United States: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  23. Harrison, Paul Carter; Andrews, Bert (1989). In the Shadow of the Great White Way: Images from the Black Theatre (First ed.). New York, New York: Thunder's Mouth Press.
  24. "Blues for Mister Charlie". United States: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  25. "Diana Sands". United States: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  26. "The Owl and the Pussycat". United States: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  27. "1963-64 Obie Award". United States: Infoplease. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  28. "Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright". United States: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  29. "A Raisin in the Sun". United States: Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  30. "Awards for 1958-1959". United States: Outer Critics Circle Award. Archived from the original on 2009-05-01. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
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