Collins, Amy Jennings, Nora Collins
in: 71 episodes
episode: #632, November 26, 1968
episode: # 1049, July 2, 1970
New York City, April 1, 1959
Though Dark Shadows fans remember her fondly as the wide-eyed
innocent Amy Jennings (or perhaps the precocious Nora Collins),
Denise Nickerson played her most famous role-as a big human blueberry,
a year after leaving the soap's cast. Denise played Violet Beauregarde
in the classic film Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory
mom, Flo, helped guide her into show business from an early age.
Her first professional gig was at age 2, in a Florida Home Heating
commercial (the family lived in Coconut Grove, Florida at the time).
Buffman, a neighborhood playhouse producer, spotted the youngster
in a Coconut Grove fashion show when Denise was 4, which led to
stage roles. Her big break came when she played Wendy's daughter
in a Coconut Grove Theatre production of Peter Pan starring
Betsy Palmer. Buffman selected Denise to work with the production
in Washington, D.C.
Peter Pan's run ended, when Denise was 7, she moved with
her older sister, Carol, to New York. The young actress quickly
landed a job on the NBC soap The Doctors. She also appeared
on Broadway in the chorus 1967's Sherry!, a short-lived musical
version of The Man Who Came to Dinner.
1968 Denise played Bill Bixby's daughter in a pilot called Rome
Sweet Rome. She then did a ten-week tour of The Music Man,
and on her return to New York, she joined the Dark Shadows
cast in 1968.
years of working mostly with adults, Denise was thrilled to have
a castmate near her own age. She and David
Henesy became pals. They spent hours together on the set, playing
practical jokes on each other and occasionally being naughty, sneaking
into Joan Bennett's dressing room to smoke.
used her dressing room because Joan wore massive amounts of Jungle
Gardenia perfume, which masked odors up to six blocks," Denise
confessed years later.
1970, the busy little actress left Dark Shadows and made
her first TV movie, The Neon Ceiling, starring Lee Grant
and Gig Young. A year later she originated the role of Liza Walton
on Search for Tomorrow.
age 13, Denise took a controversial role: as the seductive title
character in the musical Lolita, My Love. The show
was bound for Broadway, but it closed in Boston in March 1971, after
disastrous reviews. (Most critics couldn't grasp why anyone would
want to turn the dark tale into a musical.)
by her sister, later that year, Denise went to Germany and
danced with the Oompa Loompas in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate
Factory (1971). In the film adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's
classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, she played Violet
Beauregarde, a gum-snapping know-it-all who goes against the wishes
of Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) and eats a piece of candy that hasn't
been properly tested. Violet's skin turns, well, violet, and she
plumps up into a giant human blueberry who has to be rolled away
to an off-camera "dejuicing machine."
in America, Denise took the stage as the heroic deaf mute in a regional
production of Helen Keller.
she played Allison, a member of the Short Circuits rock band on
the educational PBS series, The Electric Company. Developed
by the Children's Television Workshop, it was aimed at children
a little older than those served by its Sesame Street.
impressive cast of The Electric Company included Rita Moreno
who'd already won an Oscar for West Side Story, and Skip
Hinnant, whose Broadway credits included originating the part of
Schroeder in You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown (at the same
time Denise was appearing in Sherry!) Denise took a spot
vacated when Irene Cara (later famous for acting in Fame,
and singing the theme to Flashdance) left the show after
the first season. (Bill Cosby was in the first season as well, but
was gone by the time Denise joined the cast.) Denise left The
Electric Company at the end of the 1972/73 season.
few years after leaving Dark Shadows, the young actress guest-starred
on a show featuring a family very different from the Collinses:
The Brady Bunch. In the 1974 episode "Two Petes in a
Pod" she played a girl caught up in the mayhem caused when
Pete discovers he has a look-alike.
made another pilot, If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? (1974),
and in 1975, she played Miss San Diego, a beauty pageant contestant
in the film Smile (also starring Melanie Griffith and Annette
O'Toole). And in 1976 she played a little girl whose life is disrupted
by divorce in another TV pilot, The Dark Side of Innocence.
Other TV appearances included episodes of Flipper and The
Jackie Gleason Show.
accident interrupted Denise's career in November 1976. While crossing
the street, she was struck by a car, and ended up in a full leg
cast for eight months. From then on suffered from persistent leg
and back pain.
her recovery, she made a couple more films -- Child of Glass
(a 1978 TV movie for Disney) and Zero to Sixty (1978). (In
a press release for Zero to Sixty, the petite actress summed
up her personal philosophy: "You're never too big that you
can't be nice to people.")
lifetime of being told what to wear, where to go, and how to act,
21-year-old Denise was ready to step out of the spotlight. She took
a job as a hospital clerk, where she met an ex-Marine named Rick
Keller. They wed in 1981, but their marriage was cut short when
he died in 1983, at age 25, of a brain aneurysm. "We were very
happy," Denise later told People magazine, "and
then one day somebody pulls a rug out from under you."
at the 2001 Dark Shadows Festival.
EXCLUSIVE PHOTO BY CRAIG HAMRICK
moved to Iowa and married again, in 1995. She and Mark Willard had
one son, Josh. After Denise and Mark divorced in 1998, mother and
son moved to Colorado, where Denise now works as an accountant.
2001 the former Violet Beauregarde experienced a resurgence of fame
when the 30th anniversary of Willy Wonka led to numerous
magazine interviews, TV interviews, and personal appearances.
Search for Tomorrow (Liza Walton, 1971), The Doctors (Katie Harris).
TV: Bert D'Angelo (1976), The Brady Bunch, Flipper (Little Tina,
The Dark Side of Innocence (Gabriela Hancock, 1976), If I Love You
Am I Trapped Forever (Sophie Pennington, 1974), The Man Who Could
Talk to Kids (Dena Pingitone, 1973), The Neon Ceiling (Paula Miller,
1971), Wonderful World of Disney: Child of Glass (Connie Sue, 1978)
COMMERCIAL: Campbell's Soup.
Zero to Sixty (Larry, 1978), Smile (Shirley, 1978), Willy Wonka
and the Chocolate Factory (Violet Beauregard, 1971).
Lolita My Love (Lolita, Boston), The Music Man (Amaryllis, 1968),
Gypsy (Baby June), The King and I (Princess Ying Yaowalak), Peter
Pan, Milliken, Our Town (Rebecca Gibbs, 1969, Florida).
Our Town (Rebecca Gibbs, 1969).