Dorothy Dandridge


Actor
Dorothy Dandridge

About

Also Known As
The Dandridge Girls, The Dandridge Girls Trio
Birth Place
Cleveland, Ohio
Born
November 09, 1923
Died
September 08, 1965
Cause of Death
Embolism

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, "Car...

Photos & Videos

Bright Road - Publicity Stills
The Decks Ran Red - Pressbook
The Decks Ran Red - Lobby Card

Family & Companions

Harold Nicholas
Husband
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).
Phil Moore
Companion
Composer, arranger. Singing coach who shaped Dandridge's voice and polished her nightclub act in the early 1950s.
Otto Preminger
Companion
Director, producer. Dated after completion of "Carmen Jones" (1954).
Jack Denison
Husband
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.

Bibliography

"Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography"
Donald Bogle, Amistad (1997)
"Dorothy Dandridge--A Portrait in Black"
Earl Mills, Holloway House (1970)

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.

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 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.

Articles

Dorothy Dandridge - Sept. 13, 20 & 27


With a reputation as a glamorous trailblazer, TCM is proud to honor Dorothy Dandridge as this month's Star of the Month. Dandridge garnered success as an entertainer throughout her life, but most notably was the first woman of color to become the star of mainstream Hollywood movies, nominated as Best Actress for Oscar and Golden Globe awards and appear on the cover of Life magazine.

Our tribute to Dandridge will be co-hosted by TCM's Ben Mankiewicz along with Donald Bogle, author of the 1997 biography Dorothy Dandridge.

With her voluptuous beauty and versatile skills as actress/singer/dancer, Dandridge became an international cabaret star and played leads in Carmen Jones (1954, Academy Award nomination) and Porgy and Bess (1959, Golden Globe nomination). She also emerged as a leading sex symbol in Hollywood; Lena Horne once called her "our Marilyn Monroe."

If Dandridge's story was one of great accomplishment, it was also one of great disappointment. Despite her impressive achievements, she died alone and practically penniless when she was only 42, possibly from suicide. She felt that her failure to realize her full potential had been due to the racial barriers she faced.

"America was not geared to make me into a Liz Taylor, a Monroe, a Gardner," Dandridge observed in a memoir, Everything and Nothing, written shortly before her death and published in 1970 by cowriter Earl Conrad. "My sex symbolism was as a wanton, a prostitute, not as a woman seeking love and a husband, the same as another woman. I had realized everything except the limitations naturally placed on me through being a Negro."

Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born November 9, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father, Cyril Dandridge, was a cabinet maker and Baptist preacher, and her mother, Ruby, was an actress/entertainer. Ruby would eventually achieve a certain success playing domestics on radio and, later, on television and in such films as Cabin in the Sky (1943), Dead Reckoning (1947) and A Hole in the Head (1959). She was known for her high-pitched voice and excitable temperament.

Dorothy's parents had separated before she was born. At a young age, under their mother's tutelage, she and her older sister, Vivian, sang and danced in an act called the Wonder Children that toured the U.S. in what was known as the "Chitlin' Circuit," the term for performance venues that featured African American entertainers and catered to Black audiences during the era of racial segregation. The act was managed by Ruby's lesbian lover, Geneva Williams, who reportedly had a fierce temper and disciplined the girls harshly.

In 1934, Dorothy and Vivian were joined by an unrelated girl, Etta Jones (not the noted jazz singer of the same name), to form a song-and-dance trio known as the Dandridge Sisters. Their constant performing and dance lessons left little time for regular school. With the Depression, work in Cleveland had dried up for Ruby, and she took her girls with her when she relocated to Hollywood and became a minor celebrity.

The Dandridge Sisters attracted major notice after winning a singing contest at a Los Angeles radio station. Nightclub performances in L.A. led to an engagement at New York City's Cotton Club, where they became a popular attraction and won comparisons to the Andrews Sisters. Back in Hollywood they appeared as a specialty act in musical shorts and feature films. Dorothy had made her film debut at age 12, uncredited, in a "Little Rascals" short, "Teacher's Beau" (1935), and appeared in several films as part of the sister act.

The trio toured Europe in 1939 and recorded with big-band leader Jimmie Lunceford upon their return to America. After the dissolution of the sister act, Dorothy began playing nightclubs as a solo act and was progressing in her own film career. In 1940., she had her first individually credited movie role in the race film Four Shall Die, in which she played a murderer.

From the beginning of her movie career, Dandridge refused to play stereotypical Black characters, which limited her opportunities. She played minor roles in Lady from Louisiana (1941), starring John Wayne, and Sundown (1941), starring Gene Tierney (1941). Dandridge appeared in Sun Valley Serenade (1941), a Sonja Henie musical, in which she seems to have a great time performing "Chattanooga Choo Choo" with the sensational dancing pair The Nicholas Brothers. (The tune was nominated for an Oscar as Best Song.)

Dandridge, who knew the brothers from the time they all performed at the Cotton Club, married younger brother Harold Nicholas in 1942. Their daughter, Harolyn Suzanne, born in 1943, suffered from cerebral anoxia, caused by lack of oxygen to the brain during labor. The condition resulted in mental challenges, and Harolyn's disability reportedly put a further strain on an already troubled marriage. Dandridge and Nicholas became estranged and would eventually divorce in 1949.

Dandridge appeared in a string of minor roles before she gained notice for her beauty and provocative costuming as the "Queen of the Ashuba" in the Lex Barker film Tarzan's Peril (1951). Also in 1951, Dandridge played the girlfriend of an aspiring member of The Harlem Globetrotters in a film of that title and had smash successes performing at Hollywood's Mocambo and other nightclubs in New York and London. This led to an appearance as herself singing "Taking a Chance on Love" in MGM's Remains to Be Seen (1953), starring June Allyson.

This led to Dandridge's breakthrough vehicle as an actress in MGM's Bright Road (1953), a low-budget film in which she gives a sensitive performance as an understanding teacher at a rural Black elementary school in Alabama. Costarring are Harry Belafonte as the school's principal and Philip Hepburn as a problem student championed by Dandridge.

Dandridge kept her name in front of the public with further appearances in nightclubs and on television variety programs. Then came Carmen Jones, 20th Century-Fox's film version of a stage musical that modernized the Bizet opera Carmen, with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. This new version was set in the American South during World War II and featured an all-Black cast.

Dandridge campaigned for the role of the temptress Carmen, but producer-director Otto Preminger had seen her ladylike performance in Bright Road and thought her wrong for the role. With a sultry new look, she convinced him otherwise and joined a cast that also included Belafonte and Pearl Bailey. Because of the operatic score, the leads were dubbed, with Marilyn Horne singing for Dandridge and LeVern Hutcherson for Belafonte.

Writing in recent times in The Chicago Tribune, critic John Petrakis noted of Carmen Jones that "There is one element that continues to glow like the proverbial jewel in the crown - the stunning title performance by the great Dorothy Dandridge." She lost the Oscar to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl (1954), but Dandridge's film career had been firmly established, and she signed a three-picture deal with Fox.

However, she continued to find it difficult to find suitable parts. She turned down the supporting role of Tuptim in 1956's The King and I, a part eventually played by Rita Moreno. "I can't play a slave," Dandridge said at the time. Preminger supported her decision and advised her to hold out for leading roles. By now, although he was married, he had become her lover as well as mentor. Their affair would last four years.

Dandridge continued to dazzle in her nightclub career, becoming the first Black performer at the Empire Room at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. But three years passed before she made another film, Fox's Island in the Sun (1957, TCM premiere), a drama of interracial romance based on the novel by Alec Waugh and directed by Robert Rossen.

Dandridge is part of an all-star ensemble cast that includes Belafonte, Joan Fontaine, James Mason, Joan Collins and Michael Rennie. She plays a West Indian woman who has an affair with a white man, played by John Justin. This steamy film tested the limits of the Motion Picture Production Code and proved controversial, especially in the American South. Still, it performed well at the box office and became the sixth highest-grossing film of its year.

Nevertheless, Dandridge's career was at a stalemate at Fox, which forced her to turn to other film companies. In the French/Italian production Tamango (1958), she plays the mistress of a Dutch sea captain (Curt Jürgens) facing a revolt on a slave ship bound from Africa to Cuba. Controversial because of its scenes of interracial romance, the film was banned in the French colonies and parts of the U.S.

MGM's The Decks Ran Red, also released in 1958 and set on a ship, again focuses on a captain (James Mason), who must deal with an uprising, and Dandridge as a beautiful woman arousing male libidos. Broderick Crawford and Stuart Whitman are the murderous villains who want to take over the ship.

Otto Preminger provided Dandridge with another memorable opportunity a year later by again directing her in a classic role from an operatic source: Bess in Porgy and Bess (1959), the screen version of the 1935 folk opera by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. The film, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, had a troubled production history that reportedly included tensions between former lovers Dandridge and Preminger.

The leading roles again were dubbed, and critical reaction to the film was mixed, with some reviewers offering the opinion that Dandridge was too "refined" for the earthy Bess. The original wide-screen version of Porgy and Bess has become one of the most infamous "missing" films. Goldwyn's rights to the material expired after 15 years and reverted to the Gershwin estate, which has shown little interest in the film. Shot in the 65mm Todd-AO process, it has been shown in recent times in a 35mm print.

Again, Dandridge's starring role in a major film failed to lead to other prestigious movie projects. After some television work, her final completed film was Malaga (1960), a British crime drama costarring Trevor Howard and Emund Purdom. She was cast opposite Alain Delon in a version of Marco Polo that began production in 1962 but was never completed.

As her film career faltered, Dandridge did some TV work and appeared onstage and in nightclubs. In 1959 she had married restaurant owner Jack Denison, but they were divorced three years later; she accused him of verbal and physical abuse and of mishandling her money. Facing bankruptcy and heavy debts to the IRS, she sold her Los Angeles home and took a small apartment in West Hollywood.

By 1963, with her career at a low ebb, she could no longer afford special care for her daughter, who was placed in a state-run mental institution. Dandridge reportedly turned to drink and drugs and suffered a nervous breakdown. On September 8, 1965, Dandridge was found dead in her apartment by her manager, Earl Mills. Her death was originally reported to be the result of an embolism, but it was later determined that she died from an overdose of an antidepressant.

At the time of her death, Dandridge had just over $2 in her bank account. Among signs pointing to suicide was a remark she made in a telephone conversation with a friend, former sister-in-law Geraldine Branton, on the date of her death: "Whatever happens, I know you will understand."

In the 1980s and '90s, interest in Dandridge was reawakened as her inspiration was acknowledged by such stars as Halle Berry, Loretta Devine, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Jada Pinkett Smith and Cicely Tyson. In 1999, Berry won Emmy and Golden Globe awards for her performance in the HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Berry would go on to become the first, and currently only, woman of color to win the Oscar for Best Actress (Monster's Ball, 2001)

Donald Bogle's biography was another important factor in the renewed fascination with the performer. He wrote in the book that Dandridge "brought the Black actress in films from behind the shadows and...emerged as Hollywood's first authentic movie goddess of color."

Her good friend Harry Belafonte appreciated the uphill battle Dandridge had faced as a Black actress in the film industry of her day, calling her "the right person in the right place at the wrong time." And here's a wistful quote attributed to Dandridge herself: "If I were white, I could capture the world!"

Dorothy Dandridge - Sept. 13, 20 & 27

Dorothy Dandridge - Sept. 13, 20 & 27

With a reputation as a glamorous trailblazer, TCM is proud to honor Dorothy Dandridge as this month's Star of the Month. Dandridge garnered success as an entertainer throughout her life, but most notably was the first woman of color to become the star of mainstream Hollywood movies, nominated as Best Actress for Oscar and Golden Globe awards and appear on the cover of Life magazine.Our tribute to Dandridge will be co-hosted by TCM's Ben Mankiewicz along with Donald Bogle, author of the 1997 biography Dorothy Dandridge.With her voluptuous beauty and versatile skills as actress/singer/dancer, Dandridge became an international cabaret star and played leads in Carmen Jones (1954, Academy Award nomination) and Porgy and Bess (1959, Golden Globe nomination). She also emerged as a leading sex symbol in Hollywood; Lena Horne once called her "our Marilyn Monroe."If Dandridge's story was one of great accomplishment, it was also one of great disappointment. Despite her impressive achievements, she died alone and practically penniless when she was only 42, possibly from suicide. She felt that her failure to realize her full potential had been due to the racial barriers she faced."America was not geared to make me into a Liz Taylor, a Monroe, a Gardner," Dandridge observed in a memoir, Everything and Nothing, written shortly before her death and published in 1970 by cowriter Earl Conrad. "My sex symbolism was as a wanton, a prostitute, not as a woman seeking love and a husband, the same as another woman. I had realized everything except the limitations naturally placed on me through being a Negro."Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born November 9, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father, Cyril Dandridge, was a cabinet maker and Baptist preacher, and her mother, Ruby, was an actress/entertainer. Ruby would eventually achieve a certain success playing domestics on radio and, later, on television and in such films as Cabin in the Sky (1943), Dead Reckoning (1947) and A Hole in the Head (1959). She was known for her high-pitched voice and excitable temperament.Dorothy's parents had separated before she was born. At a young age, under their mother's tutelage, she and her older sister, Vivian, sang and danced in an act called the Wonder Children that toured the U.S. in what was known as the "Chitlin' Circuit," the term for performance venues that featured African American entertainers and catered to Black audiences during the era of racial segregation. The act was managed by Ruby's lesbian lover, Geneva Williams, who reportedly had a fierce temper and disciplined the girls harshly.In 1934, Dorothy and Vivian were joined by an unrelated girl, Etta Jones (not the noted jazz singer of the same name), to form a song-and-dance trio known as the Dandridge Sisters. Their constant performing and dance lessons left little time for regular school. With the Depression, work in Cleveland had dried up for Ruby, and she took her girls with her when she relocated to Hollywood and became a minor celebrity.The Dandridge Sisters attracted major notice after winning a singing contest at a Los Angeles radio station. Nightclub performances in L.A. led to an engagement at New York City's Cotton Club, where they became a popular attraction and won comparisons to the Andrews Sisters. Back in Hollywood they appeared as a specialty act in musical shorts and feature films. Dorothy had made her film debut at age 12, uncredited, in a "Little Rascals" short, "Teacher's Beau" (1935), and appeared in several films as part of the sister act.The trio toured Europe in 1939 and recorded with big-band leader Jimmie Lunceford upon their return to America. After the dissolution of the sister act, Dorothy began playing nightclubs as a solo act and was progressing in her own film career. In 1940., she had her first individually credited movie role in the race film Four Shall Die, in which she played a murderer.From the beginning of her movie career, Dandridge refused to play stereotypical Black characters, which limited her opportunities. She played minor roles in Lady from Louisiana (1941), starring John Wayne, and Sundown (1941), starring Gene Tierney (1941). Dandridge appeared in Sun Valley Serenade (1941), a Sonja Henie musical, in which she seems to have a great time performing "Chattanooga Choo Choo" with the sensational dancing pair The Nicholas Brothers. (The tune was nominated for an Oscar as Best Song.)Dandridge, who knew the brothers from the time they all performed at the Cotton Club, married younger brother Harold Nicholas in 1942. Their daughter, Harolyn Suzanne, born in 1943, suffered from cerebral anoxia, caused by lack of oxygen to the brain during labor. The condition resulted in mental challenges, and Harolyn's disability reportedly put a further strain on an already troubled marriage. Dandridge and Nicholas became estranged and would eventually divorce in 1949.Dandridge appeared in a string of minor roles before she gained notice for her beauty and provocative costuming as the "Queen of the Ashuba" in the Lex Barker film Tarzan's Peril (1951). Also in 1951, Dandridge played the girlfriend of an aspiring member of The Harlem Globetrotters in a film of that title and had smash successes performing at Hollywood's Mocambo and other nightclubs in New York and London. This led to an appearance as herself singing "Taking a Chance on Love" in MGM's Remains to Be Seen (1953), starring June Allyson.This led to Dandridge's breakthrough vehicle as an actress in MGM's Bright Road (1953), a low-budget film in which she gives a sensitive performance as an understanding teacher at a rural Black elementary school in Alabama. Costarring are Harry Belafonte as the school's principal and Philip Hepburn as a problem student championed by Dandridge.Dandridge kept her name in front of the public with further appearances in nightclubs and on television variety programs. Then came Carmen Jones, 20th Century-Fox's film version of a stage musical that modernized the Bizet opera Carmen, with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. This new version was set in the American South during World War II and featured an all-Black cast.Dandridge campaigned for the role of the temptress Carmen, but producer-director Otto Preminger had seen her ladylike performance in Bright Road and thought her wrong for the role. With a sultry new look, she convinced him otherwise and joined a cast that also included Belafonte and Pearl Bailey. Because of the operatic score, the leads were dubbed, with Marilyn Horne singing for Dandridge and LeVern Hutcherson for Belafonte.Writing in recent times in The Chicago Tribune, critic John Petrakis noted of Carmen Jones that "There is one element that continues to glow like the proverbial jewel in the crown - the stunning title performance by the great Dorothy Dandridge." She lost the Oscar to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl (1954), but Dandridge's film career had been firmly established, and she signed a three-picture deal with Fox.However, she continued to find it difficult to find suitable parts. She turned down the supporting role of Tuptim in 1956's The King and I, a part eventually played by Rita Moreno. "I can't play a slave," Dandridge said at the time. Preminger supported her decision and advised her to hold out for leading roles. By now, although he was married, he had become her lover as well as mentor. Their affair would last four years.Dandridge continued to dazzle in her nightclub career, becoming the first Black performer at the Empire Room at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. But three years passed before she made another film, Fox's Island in the Sun (1957, TCM premiere), a drama of interracial romance based on the novel by Alec Waugh and directed by Robert Rossen.Dandridge is part of an all-star ensemble cast that includes Belafonte, Joan Fontaine, James Mason, Joan Collins and Michael Rennie. She plays a West Indian woman who has an affair with a white man, played by John Justin. This steamy film tested the limits of the Motion Picture Production Code and proved controversial, especially in the American South. Still, it performed well at the box office and became the sixth highest-grossing film of its year.Nevertheless, Dandridge's career was at a stalemate at Fox, which forced her to turn to other film companies. In the French/Italian production Tamango (1958), she plays the mistress of a Dutch sea captain (Curt Jürgens) facing a revolt on a slave ship bound from Africa to Cuba. Controversial because of its scenes of interracial romance, the film was banned in the French colonies and parts of the U.S.MGM's The Decks Ran Red, also released in 1958 and set on a ship, again focuses on a captain (James Mason), who must deal with an uprising, and Dandridge as a beautiful woman arousing male libidos. Broderick Crawford and Stuart Whitman are the murderous villains who want to take over the ship.Otto Preminger provided Dandridge with another memorable opportunity a year later by again directing her in a classic role from an operatic source: Bess in Porgy and Bess (1959), the screen version of the 1935 folk opera by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. The film, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, had a troubled production history that reportedly included tensions between former lovers Dandridge and Preminger.The leading roles again were dubbed, and critical reaction to the film was mixed, with some reviewers offering the opinion that Dandridge was too "refined" for the earthy Bess. The original wide-screen version of Porgy and Bess has become one of the most infamous "missing" films. Goldwyn's rights to the material expired after 15 years and reverted to the Gershwin estate, which has shown little interest in the film. Shot in the 65mm Todd-AO process, it has been shown in recent times in a 35mm print.Again, Dandridge's starring role in a major film failed to lead to other prestigious movie projects. After some television work, her final completed film was Malaga (1960), a British crime drama costarring Trevor Howard and Emund Purdom. She was cast opposite Alain Delon in a version of Marco Polo that began production in 1962 but was never completed.As her film career faltered, Dandridge did some TV work and appeared onstage and in nightclubs. In 1959 she had married restaurant owner Jack Denison, but they were divorced three years later; she accused him of verbal and physical abuse and of mishandling her money. Facing bankruptcy and heavy debts to the IRS, she sold her Los Angeles home and took a small apartment in West Hollywood.By 1963, with her career at a low ebb, she could no longer afford special care for her daughter, who was placed in a state-run mental institution. Dandridge reportedly turned to drink and drugs and suffered a nervous breakdown. On September 8, 1965, Dandridge was found dead in her apartment by her manager, Earl Mills. Her death was originally reported to be the result of an embolism, but it was later determined that she died from an overdose of an antidepressant.At the time of her death, Dandridge had just over $2 in her bank account. Among signs pointing to suicide was a remark she made in a telephone conversation with a friend, former sister-in-law Geraldine Branton, on the date of her death: "Whatever happens, I know you will understand."In the 1980s and '90s, interest in Dandridge was reawakened as her inspiration was acknowledged by such stars as Halle Berry, Loretta Devine, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Jada Pinkett Smith and Cicely Tyson. In 1999, Berry won Emmy and Golden Globe awards for her performance in the HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Berry would go on to become the first, and currently only, woman of color to win the Oscar for Best Actress (Monster's Ball, 2001)Donald Bogle's biography was another important factor in the renewed fascination with the performer. He wrote in the book that Dandridge "brought the Black actress in films from behind the shadows and...emerged as Hollywood's first authentic movie goddess of color."Her good friend Harry Belafonte appreciated the uphill battle Dandridge had faced as a Black actress in the film industry of her day, calling her "the right person in the right place at the wrong time." And here's a wistful quote attributed to Dandridge herself: "If I were white, I could capture the world!"

Life Events

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"

1940

Peformed at the Cotton Club in Harlem where she met future husband Harold Nicholas (date approximate)

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

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"

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

Photo Collections

Bright Road - Publicity Stills
Bright Road - Publicity Stills
The Decks Ran Red - Pressbook
Here is the campaign book (pressbook) for The Decks Ran Red (1958). Pressbooks were sent to exhibitors and theater owners to aid them in publicizing the film's run in their theater.
The Decks Ran Red - Lobby Card
Here is a Lobby Card from The Decks Ran Red (1958). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

The Harlem Globetrotters (1950) — (Movie Clip) What’s All The Fuss About College hoop star Billy (played by Billy Brown, a non-actor basketball pro at the time) tells his girlfriend Ann (Dorothy Dandridge, second-billed after Thomas Gomez, who pays the team founder Abe Saperstein, in her first speaking appearance) that he’s leaving to join the barnstorming title-team, in The Harlem Globetrotters, 1951.
Sun Valley Serenade (1941) - Chattanooga Choo Choo After the vocal and instrumental from Glenn Miller's band, the last bit of the number, Dorothy Dandridge the girl singer, with her future husband, the taller Nicholas brother Harold, and his brother Fayard, the famous tune by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, in Sun Valley Serenade, 1941.
Pillow To Post (1945) - Watcha Say? (Louis Armstrong) Ida Lupino as sales-gal Jean is juggling William Prince as soldier Don, posing as her husband so she could get military housing, and Johnny Mitchell as client Slim, who wanted a dinner date, while Louis Armstrong leads his band with Dorothy Dandridge singing a tune by Burton Lane and Ted Koehler, in Pillow To Post, 1945.
Tamango (1959) - Coast Of Guinea, 1820 Unusually informative, perhaps provocative, opening credit sequence, from the French-Italian co-production, directed by Blacklisted American John Berry, from a story by Prosper Mérimée, introducing Curt Jurgens as Dutch slave ship captain Reiker, from Tamango, 1959, also starring Dorothy Dandridge.
Tamango (1959) - The Blacks Like You Having been visible but obscured in earlier scenes, director John Berry offers the first full view of Dorothy Dandridge as mixed-race Aiche, mistress to Dutch slave ship captain Reiker (Curt Jurgens), and clearly favored by the doctor Corot (Jean Servais), in the French-Italian historical melodrama Tamango, 1959.
Bright Road (1953) - I'm Dorothy Dandridge Unorthodox opening from screenwriter Emmet Lavery, working from the original story by African-American schoolteacher and author Mary Elizabeth Vroman, Dorothy Dandridge narrates as herself, introducing co-star Harry Belafonte, ably directed by Gerald Mayer, nephew of the studio boss, in MGM’s Bright Road, 1953.
Bright Road (1953) - I Walked Right Into That One We learn here that new teacher Jane (Dorothy Dandridge) is also the Sunday school teacher, leading a hymn and continuing her internal monologue from the original story by Mary Elizabeth Vroman, getting into trick topics with troubled C.T. (Philip Hepburn), in MGM’s Bright Road, 1953, co-starring Harry Belafonte.
Bright Road (1953) - Suzanne (Ev'ry Night When The Sun Goes Down) New teacher Jane (Dorothy Dandridge) struggling with grades, then a heck of a thing to discover about one’s principal, Harry Belafonte as “Mr. Williams,” with the modernized folk song, never a single but a favorite track from his chart-topping second album (Belafonte, 1955), in MGM’s Bright Road, 1953.
Carmen Jones (1954) - Blow On 'Em Sugar Scene illustrating the considerable heat between Dorothy Dandridge (title character) and Harry Belafonte as Joe, who've fled military justice together to Chicago, in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones, 1954.
Carmen Jones (1954) - Open, Bizet Overture, Saul Bass Titles The unmistakable overture from Bizet's original opera and notable titles by Saul Bass, opening Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones, 1954, starring Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte and Pearl Bailey.
Decks Ran Red, The - Does It Bother The Captain? Worried first-time captain Rumill (James Mason) gets dominated by cook's wife Mahia (Dorothy Dandridge), while conspiring crewmen Scott (Broderick Crawford) and Leroy (Stuart Whitman) intimidate their stooge Mace (David Cross), in Andrew L. Stone's The Decks Ran Red, 1958.
Decks Ran Red, The - So Exotically Beautiful Newly promoted Captain Rumill (James Mason) narrating, realizing he screwed up letting the cook bring his Maori wife (Dorothy Dandridge) along, the treacherous crew (Broderick Crawford, Hank Patterson, Stuart Whitman) already rebelling, in Andrew L. Stone's The Decks Ran Red, 1958.

Trailer

Promo

Family

Cyril Dandridge
Father
Minister. Abandoned family.
Ruby Dandridge
Mother
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".
Geneva Williams
Family
Mother's companion; reportedly was abusive to Dorothy and her sister.
Vivian Dandridge
Sister
Singer, actor. Older.
Harolyn Nicholas
Daughter
Born 1943; father Harold Nicholas; born mentally retarded.

Companions

Harold Nicholas
Husband
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).
Phil Moore
Companion
Composer, arranger. Singing coach who shaped Dandridge's voice and polished her nightclub act in the early 1950s.
Otto Preminger
Companion
Director, producer. Dated after completion of "Carmen Jones" (1954).
Jack Denison
Husband
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.

Bibliography

"Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography"
Donald Bogle, Amistad (1997)
"Dorothy Dandridge--A Portrait in Black"
Earl Mills, Holloway House (1970)

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.