Dorothy Jean Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge Lives
Dorothy Jean Dandridge (November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965) was one of the world’s prolific and talented film and theatre actress, singer, and dancer. She is perhaps one of the most famous African-American actresses to have a successful Hollywoodcareer and the first nominated for a Academy Awardfor Best Actress for her performance in the 1954 film Carmen Jones.
Dandridge performed as a vocalist in venues such as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater. During her early career, she performed as a part of The Wonder Children, later The Dandridge Sisters, and appeared in a succession of films, usually in uncredited roles. In 1959 Dandridge was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Porgy and Bess. She is the subject of the 1999 HBO biographical film, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She has been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Dandridge was married and divorced twice, first to dancer Harold Nicholas (the father of her daughter, Harolyn Suzanne) and then to hotel owner Jack Denison. Dandridge died under mysterious circumstances at age 42. Dandridge was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to aspiring entertainer Ruby Dandridge (née Butler) and Cyril Dandridge, a cabinetmaker, and Baptist minister. She was of Jamaican, Mexican and Native American descent.
Dorothy’s first credited film role was in Four Shall Die (1940). The race film cast her as a murderer and did little for her film career. Because of her rejection of stereotypical African American roles, she had limited options for film roles. She had small roles in Lady from Louisiana with John Wayne and Sundown with Gene Tierney (both in 1941). Dandridge appeared as part of a Specialty Number, Chattanooga Choo Choo, in the hit 1941 musical, Sun Valley Serenade for 20th Century Fox.
She continued to appear occasionally in films and on the stage throughout the rest of the 1940s with Count Basie in Hit Parade and Louis Armstrong, Atlantic Cityand Pillow to Post. In 1951, Dandridge appeared in Tarzan’s Peril. Her continuing publicity buzz got her pictured on the April 1951 cover of Ebony.
In December 1952, Bright Road—her first starring role opposite Harry Belafonte. In 1953, a nationwide talent search arose as 20th Century Fox began the process of casting the all-black musical film adaptation of Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1943 Broadway musical Carmen Jones. The remainder of the cast consisted of Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, and Diahann Carroll.
Carmen Jones opened to favorable reviews and strong box office returns on October 28, 1954, earning $70,000 during its first week and $50,000 during its second. Dandridge’s performance as the seductive leading actress made her one of Hollywood’s first African-American sex symbols and earned her positive reviews. On November 1, 1954, Dandridge became the first black woman featured on the cover of Life.
Carmen Jones became a worldwide success, eventually earning over $10 million at the box office and becoming one of the year’s highest-earning films. In 1955, Dandridge signed a three-movie deal with 20th Century Fox starting at $75,000 a film. In 1957, Dandridge sued Confidential (magazine) for libel over its article that described a scandalous incident, fictitious as it turned out, that it claimed occurred in 1950. In May 1957, she accepted an out-of-court settlement of $10,000.
Dandridge next agreed to star opposite German actor Curd Jürgens in the Italian production of Tamango (1958). A reluctant Dandridge had agreed to appear in the film only after learning that it focused on a nineteenth-century slave revolt on a cargo ship traveling from Africa to Cuba. However, she nearly withdrew when the script called for her to swim in the nude and spend the majority of the film in a two-piece bathing suit made of rags. When Dandridge threatened to leave the film, the script and her wardrobe were retooled to her liking.
Although she was known for her renditions of songs such as Blow Out the Candle, You Do Something to Me, and Talk Sweet Talk To Me, she recorded very little on vinyl. It is unknown whether her lack of recording was due to personal choice or lack of opportunity.