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Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge

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Also Known As: The Dandridge Girls, Dorothy Dandridge, The Dandridge Girls Trio Died: September 8, 1965
Born: November 9, 1923 Cause of Death: embolism
Birth Place: Cleveland, Ohio Profession: actor, singer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

This child performer went on to become one of Hollywood's first black female stars. Called a "sepia siren" and the "most beautiful Negro singer since Lena Horne" by LIFE magazine (she was one of the first black female stars to appear on the magazine's cover), the tall, willowy beauty reached the pinnacle of stardom as the sultry seductress lead in two exceptional Hollywood musicals, "Carmen Jones" (1954), for which she was the first black woman to receive an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, and "Porgy and Bess" (1959); ironically her voice was dubbed (by Marilyn Horne and Adele Addison) in both films. Under the tutelage of her mother, character actress Ruby Dandridge, she began her career in a musical act with her sister Vivian with whom she appeared in films ("A Day at the Races" 1937) and later performed with as big band singers in the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. After her divorce from Harold Nicholas of the famed dancing Nicholas brothers, Dandridge established herself as a sophisticated international nightclub singer and made a determined effort to become a dramatic film star. She played a committed young teacher in the drama "Bright Road" (1953) but it was as the eponymous temptress...

This child performer went on to become one of Hollywood's first black female stars. Called a "sepia siren" and the "most beautiful Negro singer since Lena Horne" by LIFE magazine (she was one of the first black female stars to appear on the magazine's cover), the tall, willowy beauty reached the pinnacle of stardom as the sultry seductress lead in two exceptional Hollywood musicals, "Carmen Jones" (1954), for which she was the first black woman to receive an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, and "Porgy and Bess" (1959); ironically her voice was dubbed (by Marilyn Horne and Adele Addison) in both films. Under the tutelage of her mother, character actress Ruby Dandridge, she began her career in a musical act with her sister Vivian with whom she appeared in films ("A Day at the Races" 1937) and later performed with as big band singers in the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. After her divorce from Harold Nicholas of the famed dancing Nicholas brothers, Dandridge established herself as a sophisticated international nightclub singer and made a determined effort to become a dramatic film star. She played a committed young teacher in the drama "Bright Road" (1953) but it was as the eponymous temptress in "Carmen Jones" (1954) that she catapulted to stardom. Hollywood did not, however, find the roles to match her celebrity and it was several years before she appeared in a string of interracial romance problem dramas beginning with the then-controversial "Island in the Sun" (1957). After the success of Otto Preminger's lusciously produced "Porgy and Bess" (1959), Dandridge reluctantly resumed her nightclub career, finding a dearth of dramatic vehicles in Hollywood. Personal and financial problems overshadowed the end of her career and Dandridge died from a drug overdose at age 41, ironically coming to symbolize the "tragic mulatto" stereotype she had attempted to escape in her career.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Malaga (1962) Gianna
2.
 Murder Men (1961) Norma Sherman
3.
 Tamango (1959) Aiche
4.
 Porgy and Bess (1959) Bess
5.
 The Decks Ran Red (1958) Mahia
6.
 Island in the Sun (1957) Margot Seaton
7.
 Carmen Jones (1955) Carmen Jones
8.
 Remains to Be Seen (1953) Herself
9.
 Bright Road (1953) Jane Richards
10.
 Tarzan's Peril (1951) Melmendi
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1927:
First professional performance at age four in song-and-dance team with sister Vivian billed as "The Wonder Children"; performed before school, church and social groups
1927:
Moved to Los Angeles at age four when parents separated (date approximate)
1937:
First film appearance (bit) in "A Day in the Races"
:
Left high school and formed the Dandridge Sisters trio--with sister, Vivian, and Etta Jones--which sang with the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra during the 1940s
1940:
Peformed at the Cotton Club in Harlem where she met future husband Harold Nicholas (date approximate)
:
Sister Vivian decided to go solo in the mid-1940s
1945:
Retired from performing after her marriage (dates approximate)
1951:
Returned to nightclub performing; starred at the Mocambo in Hollywood with Desi Arnaz's band
1952:
Appearance at La Vie en Rose nightclub was a sellout and her fourteen week engagement helped save the club from bankruptcy and led to international stardom, performing in nightclubs in London, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo
:
Was the first black performer to appear at the Empire Room of the Waldorf Astoria in New York
1953:
First starring role in "Bright Road"
1957:
Announced to star as Billie Holliday in film adaptation of William Dufty's bestseller, "Lady Sings the Blues"
:
After "Island in the Sun" (1957), made three movies in Europe: "The Decks Ran Red" (1958), Tamango" (1959) and "Malaga" (1962)
:
Around time of divorce from Denison, was forced to file for bankruptcy after creditors closed in
1965:
Attempted to resurrect career; went to health farm in Mexico with manager Earl Mills and signed new movie contract (date approximate)
1965:
Was preparing for an engagement at New York club, Basin Street East, at time of death
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"For a period that prided itself on appearances, hers was a startling presence. She was a great beauty. Her eyes were dark and vibrant, her hair long and silky, her features sharply defined. And she had the rich golden skin tone that had always fascinated movie audiences, black and white. Moreover, she was a distinctive personality, schizophrenic, maddening, euphoric, and self-destructive. ... Most important to her appeal was her fragility and her desperate determination to survive. In a way never before demonstrated by a black personality, she used her own incongruities and self-contradictions to capture and extend the mass imagination." --Donald Bogle in "Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks" 1973.

"I have a nice voice it's pleasant. It's got a lot of soul in it. Besides, people just seem to like to look at me." --Dorothy Dandrige discussing her popularity with some amusement quoted in The New York Times obituary, September 9, 1965.

Talking about racial prejudice Dandrige commented: "It is such a waste. It makes you loggy and half-alive. It gives you nothing." --Dandridge quoted in The New York Times obituary, September 9, 1965.

"For Black America, then about to launch its civil rights offensive, Dorothy Dandridge was part of the new day. Athletes Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella had integrated major league baseball. Now a dramatic black actress integrated American motion pictures.

But sadly, her decline came soon after her triumph. She realized she was but a token figure within the movie colony, her position not much different than Lena Horne's in the forties. There were no great follow-up roles to sustain her fame. Three years passed before she appeared in another film." --Donald Bogle in "Brown Sugar" 1980.

Posthumously inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1977.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Harold Nicholas. Dancer, singer. Married on November 2, 1942; divorced in 1950; with brother Fayard, formed dancing team The Nicholas Brothers; met Dandridge while performing at the Cotton Club c. 1938; appeared together in the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" number in "Sun Valley Serenade" (1941).
companion:
Phil Moore. Composer, arranger. Singing coach who shaped Dandridge's voice and polished her nightclub act in the early 1950s.
companion:
Otto Preminger. Director, producer. Dated after completion of "Carmen Jones" (1954).
husband:
Jack Denison. Restaurateur. Married in 1959; divorced 1962; met at a Las Vegas hotel where he was maitre d'; Dandridge financed his restaurant and lost her savings before he left her.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
Cyril Dandridge. Minister. Abandoned family.
mother:
Ruby Dandridge. Actor, comedian. Appeared in films "Tish" (1942), "Cabin in the Sky" (1943) and "My Wild Irish Rose" (1947) and was a regular on radio programs "The Judy Canova Show" and "Beulah".
family:
Geneva Williams. Mother's companion; reportedly was abusive to Dorothy and her sister.
sister:
Vivian Dandridge. Singer, actor. Older.
daughter:
Harolyn Nicholas. Born 1943; father Harold Nicholas; born mentally retarded.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Dorothy Dandridge--A Portrait in Black" Holloway House
"Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography" Amistad

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