JANUARY 16, 2008

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NSU alum makes Broadway debut

“It wasn’t until Broadway came along that I felt I had really made it,” Julie Andrews once remarked. If that’s true, then actor and Northeastern State University graduate Dennis Letts has really made it. He made his Broadway debut in December, starring as failed poet and missing family patriarch Beverly Weston in “August: Osage County” at the Imperial Theater in New York City. A pitch-black comedy about the many conflicts and relationships within an Oklahoma family, “August: Osage County” was written by Pulitzer Prize finalist and Dennis’ son, Tracy Letts.

The show debuted onstage in a critically acclaimed sold-out engagement at Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company. “People came from all across the country to see the show in Chicago and one of them decided to bring it to Broadway,” Dennis said.

Though in his first Broadway production, Dennis is no stranger to the stage. He starred in several theater productions while a student at Wagoner High School and made his NSU stage debut in “Ethan Frome” under the direction of Ruth Herrington.

The university holds a special place in Dennis’ heart. He and his wife, Billie, met at a school dance while students at Northeastern. They married in 1958 and have three sons: Shawn, a jazz musician who lives in Singapore, Tracy, an actor and playwright, and Dana, a technical support specialist at the John Vaughan Library at NSU.

After graduating from NSU in 1961 with a degree in English education, Dennis began teaching at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton. Following a stint as a Fulbright lecturer in Denmark, Dennis returned to Oklahoma and began teaching English at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant. At the age of 50, Dennis retired from teaching and landed his first major acting role on an NBC mini-series.

Over the course of his acting career, Dennis has wracked up an impressive filmography covering a number of mediums, including stage, television and the big screen. “I’m a character actor,” he said. “I’m that guy in the movie you see and say ‘Hey, I’ve seen that guy before.’ I like best whatever I’m doing at the time, whether stage, screen or television. I’ve had a good run.”

Dennis can drop names of famous people with whom he has been in movies or have directed him. There’s Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Clint Eastwood, Francis Ford Coppola and Reese Witherspoon, just to name a few. For this retired college professor, it is fine to say he’s been in movies with those people, but he truly counts as friends those he met while a student at Northeastern.

“When I was at Northeastern, I met many of the friends that I still have to this day,” said Dennis. “These are people that my wife, Billie, and I still see often as part of the Nifty Fifties alumni group. I have a lot of wonderful memories from my time as a student. Northeastern is a very special place for me.”

Dennis and Billie were both named NSU Distinguished Alumni in 1999. The couple has also established a scholarship through the NSU Foundation to provide support for students in writing and performance arts studies.

Dennis credits much of his success in life to his family and the uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. “My formula for my success: Meet exciting people, don’t spend time with dolts, father a son who is so brilliant, you don’t know how he got that way, be lucky and be thankful,” he said.

Contact: Sean Michael Kennedy, NSU, (918) 444-2897