Tuesday, 20 August 2013


                 BLACK             SOCIAL              HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Dorothy Jean Dandridge  November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965  was an American actress and singer, and was the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.  She performed as a vocalist in venues such as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater.
After many bit parts, and a few minor roles, Dandridge landed her first notable film role in Tarzan's Peril (starring Lex Barker), in 1951. She won her first starring role in 1953, playing a teacher in a low-budget film with a nearly all-black cast, Bright Road, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
In 1954, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Carmen Jones. In 1959, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Porgy and Bess. In 1999, she was the subject of the HBO biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry as Dandridge. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Dandridge was married and divorced twice: first, to dancer and entertainer Harold Nicholas (the father of her daughter, Harolyn Suzanne), and then to Jack Denison. She died at age 42.

Early life

Dorothy Dandridge was born on November 9, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Cyril Dandridge (October 25, 1895 – July 9, 1989), a cabinetmaker and minister, and Ruby Dandridge (née Butler), an aspiring entertainer. Dandridge's parents separated shortly before her birth. Ruby created a song-and-dance act for her two young daughters, Vivian and Dorothy, under the name of "The Wonder Children". The sisters toured the Southern United States almost non-stop for five years (rarely attending school), while Ruby worked and performed in Cleveland.
During the Great Depression, work virtually dried up for the Dandridges, as it did for many Chitlin' circuit performers. Ruby moved to Hollywood, California, where she found steady work on radio and film in small parts as a domestic servant. In 1937, "The Wonder Children" were renamed "The Dandridge Sisters" and booked into such venues as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City.


Early career

Dandridge's first screen appearance was a bit part in an Our Gang comedy, Teacher's Beau (1935). In 1937, she appeared as one of the many singers in the Marx Brothers' feature film A Day at the Races. The following year, Dorothy and her sister Vivian appeared briefly in Going Places. In 1940, Dandridge played a murderer in the race film Four Shall Die — her first credited film role. Though the part was a supporting role and the film was somewhat of a success, Dandridge struggled to find good film roles.
In 1941, Dandridge was cast opposite John Wayne in Lady From Louisiana, playing the small part of Felice. That same year, she teamed with future husband Harold Nicholas for a brief role in Sun Valley Serenade; Dandridge, Nicholas, and his brother Fayard Nicholas appeared in what was described as a "specialty act". In 1942, Dandridge won another supporting role as Princess Malini in Drums of the Congo. After only bit parts in her next few films, she got a small, yet good, role in Hit Parade of 1943. In 1944, Dandridge had two uncredited roles in Since You Went Away and Atlantic City. The next year, she played a small part in the musical Pillow to Post. In 1947, she appeared in a tiny role in Ebony Parade. After that, Dandridge's knack for finding small roles disappeared, and she made no more films for several years. She did appear occasionally in nightclubs.
In 1951, Dandridge was cast as Melendi, Queen of the Ashuba, in her comeback film, Tarzan's Peril, starring Lex Barker as Tarzan and Virginia Huston as Jane. Dandridge's role was somewhat minor, but she was noticed by many. One night at a party, she was introduced to music manager Earl Mills. Mills wanted to further Dandridge's career as a singer, but she preferred to focus on motion pictures. Despite this disagreement, Dandridge signed Mills as her agent. She next appeared as Ann Carpenter in The Harlem Globetrotters (1951). Dandridge really had only a supporting role, but she received second billing.
After the release of The Harlem Globetrotters, Dandridge's film career stalled again. Mills arranged for her first appearance at the Mocambo, and she performed in nightclubs around the country through most of 1952.

Bright Roa

In December 1952, a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio agent saw Dandridge perform at the Mocambo, and cast her in her first major role, as Jane Richards in Bright Road. The film, which also starred Philip Hepburn and Harry Belafonte, featured a nearly all-black cast. It tells the story of a teacher who reaches out to a troubled student during his time of need. Bright Road was a box-office flop, but Dandridge was at the top of her game as a nightclub performer.
Bright Road was intended to showcase Dandridge as a serious leading actress, but the film's poor reception hurt that plan more than it helped. The feature was named "the lowest box-office gross of the South". Afterward, Dandridge started performing again in nightclubs, and eventually won a supporting role as herself in the musical drama Remains to Be Seen.

Carmen Jones

In 1954, Dandridge signed a three movie deal with 20th Century Fox. Soon after, director and writer Otto Preminger cast Dandridge along with Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, Diahann Carroll, Madame Sul-Te-Wan (uncredited), Olga James, and Joe Adams, in his all-black production of Carmen Jones. However, Dandridge's singing voice was dubbed by opera singer Marilyn Horne.
Upon release in 1954, Carmen Jones grossed $60,000 during its first week and $47,000 in its second week. The film received favorable reviews, and Dandridge was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming only the third African American to receive a nomination in any Academy Award category (after Hattie McDaniel and Ethel Waters), and the first to be nominated for Best Actress. Grace Kelly won the award for her performance in The Country Girl. At the awards ceremony, Dandridge presented the Academy Award for Film Editing to Gene Milford for On the Waterfront.
In 1955, 20th Century Fox selected Dandridge to play the supporting role of Tuptim in the film version of the Broadway hit, The King and I, starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. The character was a slave, which made Dorothy decline the offer. After some convincing from Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck, that the role was a good one, Dandridge agreed to take the part. Otto Preminger, however, told her the role was too small, and that she would be better off to wait for a leading role in a big-budget motion picture; Dandridge again declined the role of Tuptim.
A few months before the offer of The King and I, Dandridge was asked to play Sandra Roberts in The Lieutenant Wore Skirts, a romantic comedy starring Tom Ewell and Sheree North. She had turned down this role, also, because it was too small. The character was a parody of Marilyn Monroe's character in Fox's The Seven Year Itch (1955). Dorothy was not a fan of parodies, which was another reason she declined the part. Not making these two films started the slow, but steady, demise of Dandridge's film career.

Hollywood Research, Inc. trial

Dandridge was one of the few Hollywood stars who testified at the 1957 criminal libel trial of Hollywood Research, Inc., the company that published all of the tabloid magazines of the era. She and actress Maureen O'Hara, the only other star who testified, were photographed shaking hands outside the downtown Los Angeles courtroom where the well-publicized trial was held. Testimony from O'Hara, as well as from a disgruntled former magazine editor, revealed that the magazines published false information provided by hotel maids, clerks and movie theater ushers who were paid for their tips. The stories with questionable veracity most often centered around alleged incidents of casual sex. When the jury and press visited Grauman's Chinese Theatre to determine whether O'Hara could have performed various sexual acts while seated in the balcony, as reported by a magazine published by Hollywood Research, Inc., it was discovered that this would have been impossible.
Dandridge's testimony further strengthened the prosecution's case. Alleged by one tabloid to have fornicated in the woods of Lake Tahoe with a white bandleader in 1950, she testified that racial segregation had confined her to her hotel during her nightclub engagement in the Nevada resort city. When she was not in the hotel lounge rehearsing or performing her singing, according to her testimony, she was required to stay inside her room where she slept alone. This proved beyond any doubt that Hollywood Research had committed libel at least once. The judge ordered Hollywood Research to stop publishing questionable stories based on tips for which they paid, and this curtailed invasive tabloid journalism until 1971 when Generoso Pope, Jr. moved The National Enquirer, which he owned, from New York to Lantana, Florida.

Career falter

By 1956, still under contract to Fox, Dandridge hadn't made any films since Carmen Jones. Fox still believed that Dandridge was a star, but just didn't know how to use her. One of the studio heads at Fox said, "She's a star, but we don't have any films to put her in or leading men to cast her opposite." In 1957, Dandridge's luck came back when Darryl F. Zanuck cast her as Margot, a restless young West Indian woman, in his controversial film version of Island in the Sun, co-starring James Mason, Harry Belafonte, Joan Fontaine, Joan Collins, Michael Rennie, John Justin,John Williams, and Stephen Boyd. This film was a success, which brought Dandridge back into the public eye.
Though Island in the Sun was a major success, Dandridge didn't get another film role until she was cast in the low-budget foreign Italian production Tamango, which teamed her with Curd Jürgens. Tamango was filmed in Europe in the late months of 1957 and was released on January 24, 1958 in France; it wouldn't be released in the United States until September 16, 1959. The film received fair reviews, but failed at the box-office. Dandridge believed that the film failed because she played a slave, a part she had vowed she'd never play.
In 1958, soon after the French release of Tamango, Dandridge lined up a co-starring role in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's off-beat thriller The Decks Ran Red. The film starred James Mason, Dandridge's co-star in Island in the Sun (1957). The Decks Ran Red was released with high hopes, but drew minor box-office success; today the film is considered a "cult classic" Dorothy Dandridge film.

Porgy and Bess

Determined to reinvent her career, Dorothy decided to wait for a good film role. In 1959, Columbia Pictures cast her in the lead role of Bess in Porgy and Bess. She was nominated again, this time for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, but lost to Marilyn Monroe for Some Like It Hot.
Despite positive reviews, Porgy and Bess was a box office failure. The film's characters were described by several African-Americans as "stereotypical": Bess was a drug addict, Porgy a crippled drunk, Sportin' Life another drug addict, and Crown a rapist. Many believed these characters pandered to stereotypes about African-Americans, adding to its controversy.
The actor who was most blamed for the failure of Porgy and Bess was Dandridge. Before the film, many other African-American actresses and actors looked up to her as someone who had proved that an African-American woman could achieve what a white woman could. But many thought Dandridge "sold out" when she accepted the role of Bess.
A few weeks later, Dandridge was released from her 20th Century Fox contract. Though she had been with Fox for about five-and-a-half years, she had only made two films for them: Carmen Jones (1954) and Island in the Sun (1957). Her contract committed her to making three pictures, but Fox failed to find another viable opportunity for Dandridge.

Final performances

In 1959, after the disappointment of Porgy and Bess, Dandridge played the lead role (an Italian girl named Gianna) in Malaga, a low-budget, forgettable movie that was filmed in Europe. It proved to be her final theatrical film. Filmed in late 1959 with the original title Moment of Danger, it was not released in U.S. theaters until 1962.
She made her last acting appearance the next year as the lead in the television movie The Murder Men. A reporter called Dorothy's performance, "Her most interesting 'later' film role." The film was later shown in an episode of Cain's Hundred, entitled Blues for a Junkman; all the actors received "archive footage" crediting.
By the end of 1961, all movie offers had disappeared, a disappointment from which Dandridge would never recover. She returned to performing in summer stock theater and on the nightclub circuit.


Dandridge first gained fame as a solo artist from her performances in nightclubs, usually accompanied by Phil Moore on piano. As well known as she became from 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. Whether it was because of personal choice or lack of opportunity is unknown.

In 1940, as part of the Dandridge Sisters singing group, Dandridge recorded four songs with the Jimmy Lunceford band: