Cleveland, Ohio, 9 November 1922.
Married Harold Nicholas (divorced); daughter: Harolyn.
Attended the Actors Lab in Los Angeles.
Motion picture debut in 1936 with the Dandridge Sisters performing a
musical number in
The Big Broadcast of 1936.
Oscar nomination for the title role in
West Hollywood, California, 8 September 1965.
The Big Broadcast of 1936 (Taurog) (as a member of the Dandgridge Sisters)
A Day at the Races (Wood) (uncredited, she appears in a musical number); It Can't Last Forever (MacFadden) (as a member of the Dandridge Sisters)
Going Places (Enright) (as a member of the Dandridge Sisters)
Irene (Wilcox) (uncredited, as a member of the Dandridge Sisters); Four Shall Die (Popkin) (as Helen Fielding)
Bahama Passage (Griffin) (as Thalia); Lady from Louisiana (Vorhaus) (as Felice); Sundown (Hathaway) (as Kipsang's bride); Sun Valley Serenade (Humberstone) (as Specialty)
Drums of the Congo (Cabanne) (as Malimi); Lucky Jordan (Tuttle) (uncredited, as maid)
Hit Parade of 1943 (Rogell) (as herself)
Atlantic City (McCary) (as herself); Since You Went Away (Cromwell) (as Officer's wife)
Pillow to Post (Sherman) (as herself)
Ebony Parade (as herself)
The Harlem Globetrotters (Brown) (as Ann Carpenter); Tarzan's Peril (also known as Tarzan and the Jungle Queen ) (Haskin) (as Melmendi, Queen of the Ashuba)
Bright Road (Mayer) (as Jane Richards); Remains to be Seen (Weis) (as herself)
Carmen Jones (Preminger) (title role)
The Happy Road (Kelly)
Island in the Sun (Rossen) (as Margot Seaton)
The Decks Ran Red (Stone) (as Mahia)
Porgy and Bess (Preminger) (as Bess); Tamango (Berry) (as Aiche)
Moment of Danger (also known as Malaga ) (Benedeck) (as Gianna)
Cain's Hundred (TV series); The Murder Men (Peyser)
With E. Conrad, Everything and Nothing , New York, Abeland-Schuman, 1970.
Mills, Earl, Dorothy Dandridge: A Portrait in Black , Holloway House, 1970.
Bogle, Donald, Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography , Amistad, 1997.
Robinson, Louie, " The Prviate World of Dorothy Dandridge ," in Ebony , June 1962.
Sanders, Charles, " Tragic Story of Dandridge's Retarded Daughter ," in Jet , 22 August 1963.
"Dorothy Dandridge—Hollywood's Tragic Enigma," in Ebony , March 1966.
" The Dorothy Dandridge Story ," in Essence , October 1984.
Leavy, W., " The Real-Life Tragedy of Dorothy Dandridge ," in Ebony , September 1986.
* * *
Considered one of Hollywood's greatest talents, Dorothy Dandridge was also one of Tinsel-town's greatest tragedies. Racism impeded the career of this African-American performer, who, nonetheless, set several precedents in the Hollywood motion picture industry. A child actress/performer who went on to star in such films as Carmen Jones and Island in the Sun , and the television series Beulah and Father of the Bride , Dandridge was the first African-American woman to be nominated in the Best Actress category for the Academy Awards and one of the first African-American women to be featured in film about interracial romance.
Dandridge was born on 9 November 1922 to Cyril and Ruby Dandridge. As a child, she performed with her older sister and only sibling, Vivian. Billed as the Wonder Kids, the sisters toured Baptist churches around the country with a two-act show scripted by their mother. In 1934, after moving to Chicago and subsequently Los Angeles, the Wonder Kids changed their stage name to The Dandridge Sisters and added the talents of thirteen-year-old Etta Jones. As a trio, they triumphed in an amateur competition on radio station KNX Los Angeles, defeating twenty-five white contestants.
Two years later they were invited to perform at New York's famed Cotton Club, a nightclub that featured African-American talent and catered to white audiences. The act was so successful that they were given a spot in the regular program, performing on the same bill as legendary jazz artists Cab Calloway and W. C. Handy. Another prominent act found regularly in the line-up was the dynamic dance team of Harold and Fayard Nicholas, the Nicholas Brothers.
In 1936 The Dandridge Sisters debuted in Hollywood, performing a musical number with theater and film star Bill Robinson in Paramount Picture's The Big Broadcast of 1936. They followed it up by appearing in the Marx Brothers classic, A Day at the Races , performing with Ivie Anderson and the Crinoline Choir singing "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm." After several one-night gigs and recording dates with Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra, the trio dissolved. In 1941 and 1942, Dandridge performed solo in several musical film shorts: Yes Indeed , Sing for My Supper , Jungle Jig , Easy Street , Cow Cow Boogie , and Paper Doll. She married dancer Harold Nicholas in 1942. The newlyweds lived in Los Angeles so that they could both pursue careers in motion pictures. Shortly after marrying, Dandridge became pregnant with her daughter Harolyn, who was born in 1943. Several years later, after institutionalizing her daughter, left severely retarded from the misuse of forceps during delivery, Dandridge divorced her adulterous husband and returned to the nightclub circuit, traveling the globe. In 1951 she appeared with the Desi Arnaz Band at the Macombo and, in that same year, became the first African American to perform in the Empire Room of New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Dandridge continued to work in Hollywood films, and in 1954 obtained the role that would define her career, the lead in Otto Preminger's all-black musical extravaganza Carmen Jones. The film, which featured Harry Belafonte, as well as Pearl Baily and Diahann Carroll in supporting roles, was a critical success, winning a Golden Globe Award for Best Musical Motion Picture of 1954, an Audience Award from the Berlin Film Festival in 1955, and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for Dandridge, the first ever received by an African-American woman.
Time magazine thought the success of the film would create more opportunities for African Americans in the film industry, but that was not the case. Rather than being offered a wide variety of roles that would make use of her talents, Dandridge was typecast into the stereotypical roles commonly given to African-American actresses. As Dandridge explained in an interview in Ebony , "I consider myself an actress, and I have always been a confident one. I interpret a role to the best of my ability, and more often than not, and more often than I'd like, the role calls for a creature of abandon whose desires are stronger than their sense of morality." Her roles were so sexualized that she was cast mainly as the object of male desire, most often that of white males. In 1957, she was paired with John Justin in the highly controversial film Island in the Sun , which offered not only a romance between a white man and African-American woman, but also the reverse, with a couple played by Harry Belafonte and Joan Fontaine. The trend of interracial romance continued with Dandridge in such features as The Decks Ran Red (1958) and Tamango (1959).
Frustrated by her inability to find challenging roles in feature films, Dandridge returned to live performance. During a tour, she met in Las Vegas restauranteur Jack Dennison, whom she married in 1959. Three years later Dandridge divorced him and found herself bankrupt after a series of bad investments. She tried to resurrect her failing career, but found little opportunity, making only a few television appearances. She died in her West Hollywood apartment on 8 September 1965.
In 1999, the biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge , produced by and starring Halle Berry, was broadcast on the cable network Home Box Office (HBO). The made-for-television movie, directed by Martha Coolidge, received popular and critical acclaim—winning the Screen Actor's Guild and Golden Globe Awards for Berry, the American Society of Cinematographer Award for Outstanding Cinematography, and Coolidge's nomination for a Best Directing Award from the Directors Guild of America.