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Remembering Legendary Child Actor Denise Nickerson
By David Block
Friday October 18, 2019
If you are over 50, you might have fond memories of both the ABC horror soap opera Dark Shadows (1966 to 1971) and the American musical fantasy family film, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971).
Child actor Denise Nickerson who starred in both, died this past July 10 from Pneumonia, which she contracted while in intensive care in a hospital near her home in Aurora Colo. She was 62.
In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, she portrayed the nasty gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde who turned blue, inflated, and expanded into a giant blueberry.
(You can watch that scene by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Yqw_f26SvM)
Fellow child actor Peter Ostrum who portrayed Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka … shared Nickerson memories with this writer in a phone interview.
During the movie’s filming in Germany, both Ostrum and Nickerson stayed at the same hotel where they developed a long lasting friendship.
“What struck me about Denise early on was that she was very professional,” said Ostrum. “She had been acting for several years unlike me. I was the new kid on the block.”
He remembered her being kind to him during the movie’s production.
As adults, they both appeared at Willy Wonka … fan conventions.
“She was always impeccable about her appearance and how she dressed,” said Ostrum. “What struck me was how gracious she was to her fans. She always went the extra mile to be friendly, it was genuine. That impressed me and I still remember that about Denise. She was a high quality person.”
Prior to Willy Wonka, Nickerson was already well known as a child actor. She was on Dark Shadows from 1968 to 1970 where she portrayed three different characters, Amy Jennings, Nora Collins, and Amy Collins.
Amy Jennings’s older brother Tom was a vampire and his twin Chris was a werewolf. Don Briscoe portrayed both brothers.
“we got her to come out to some Dark Shadows festivals in Los Angeles, New York, and other locations in the 1990s and the 2000s,” said Dan Curtis Productions Representative and Director of the Dark Shadows Festivals, Jim Pierson. “She always enjoyed meeting the fans. She was almost a little lady. It was like, Amy Jennings was there. She still had this little girl vibe quality.”
Before retiring in 1978, Nickerson had appeared on TV shows, which included Search for Tomorrow, The Brady Bunch, and movies such as Zero to Sixty (1978), and The Dark Side of Innocence (1976). For more details about her acting career, log onto https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0630019/
According to Pierson, although Nickerson retired, she finished one of the Dark Shadows audio dramas.
“she was full of life, full of energy,” said Pierson. “We’ll never forget Dear Denise.”
Fellow Dark Shadows actor Kathryn Leigh Scott posted on her Facebook page:
“How very sad to hear we’ve lost our lovely, vivacious Denise Nickerson. We were so blessed to work with such wonderful young actors on Dark Shadows . . . I won’t call them “child” actors because they weren’t. As young as they were, they did the job of grownups and were treated like adults, doing all the work we did in addition to being full time students. I’ll paraphrase Grayson Hall, who said, “They’re like us, except shorter.” Perhaps it’s to their credit that we really did take it for granted that they were professionals and we could count on them to do the job. I loved working with them all . . . and Denise was a joy! So vibrant and fun . . . I can hear her voice and throaty laugh as I write. I’m so grateful to know she had a loving son and daughter-in-law to turn to. My deepest condolences to them and a huge bouquet of gratitude for taking precious care of our Denise. Rest in peace.”