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Hollywood's Elite - The Meteoric Rise and Fall of America's Sex Symbols 4

Updated on January 20, 2016

Vivian, Dorothy and Ruby

Dorothy Jean Dandridge

First African American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Born in November, 1922, to Cyril Dandridge and minister and cabinetmaker and Ruby Dandridge an aspiring actress, in Cleveland, Ohio.

The parents parted ways after the birth of Dorothy, and Ruby was left to fend for herself and two small daughters. Mother Dandridge created an act for her two girls, Vivian and Dorothy, calling them "The Wonder Kids". The tiny group toured the south for five years while Ruby worked and performed in Cleveland, because of the non-stop touring the two were unable to attend school.

Ruby and her kiddie troupe moved to Hollywood, California at the beginning of the depression, because jobs were scarce.  There the elder Dandridge found steady work in radio and film performing bit parts as a domestic servant.  The "Wonder Kids" soon became the "Dandridge Sisters" and were booked into the Cotton Club and the Apollo in New York's Harlem.   In 1937 and 1940 Dorothy made her first celluloid bit part appearances in a Our Gang short and Marx Brothers feature film, A Day at the Races. 

Tribute Beautifully Accompanied by Ms. Nina Simone

Film Career

The beginning of Dandridge's film career was filled with stereotypical African-American roles of servants. Beside acting Dorothy was an accomplished singer and her sexy presence made her popular nationwide in the nightclub circuit. Soundies where popular at the time. These were film clips that were displayed on jukeboxes and Ms. Dandridge starred in a few of these; "Paper Doll", sung by the Mills Brothers, "Cow Cow Boogie", "Jig in the Jungle" and "Mr. & Mrs. Carpenter's Rent Party".

In 1947 writer and director Otto Preminger assembled an all star cast; Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, Diahann Carroll, and Joe Adams, for his production of Carmen Jones . Included in the cast was Miss Dorothy Dandridge in the female lead role as Carmen. Dorothy's voice was dubbed for the singing parts by opera singer, Marilyn Horne. The Academy nominated Ms. Dandridge for Best Actress (Dandridge was the third black woman to be nominated for the award, but the first for best actress category), alas the award went to Grace Kelly for Country Girl .

Even with the nomination Dandridge was unable to find roles worthy of her talents, with exception of Porgy and Bess. This cast included Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis, Jr., Pearl Bailey, and Diahann Carroll (Adele Addison dubbed the singing for Ms. Dandridge in this piece). Other roles were offered but Dorothy refused to play servants or slaves as with the supporting role of Tuptim in the King and I . Orson Welles wanted the actress for Lady Sings the Blues but this vehicle never came to fruition.

Later Dandridge appeared in some sexually racially charged movies; "Island in the Sun" (1957), "Tamango" (1959) and "Malaga" (1960) all were poorly received by audiences due to subject matter. Between these failed movies and Porgy and Bess, Dorothy continued her singing career, cutting albums with jazz great, Oscar Peterson, on the Verve label.

Nicholas Brothers

Then Life Happens

Dorothy Dandridge entered into a tumultuous marriage to famed dancer in 1942, Harold Nicholas (of the Nicholas Brothers), which produced one child Harolyn Suzanne in 1943, who was born with brain damage. Nicholas soon separated himself from the union and the two divorced in 1951.

Married again on June 22, 1959 to Jack Denison with then divorced. It was rumored that there was domestic violence and financial problems. Also it was found that those handling Dandridge's personal finances had absconded with $150,000, and she owed $139,000 in back taxes, not much of a sum now, but back then it was a fortune. In an effort to pay the debts owed Ms. Dandridge had to sell her home and place her mentally ill daughter into Camarillo state mental institution in California.

Afterward Dorothy Dandridge moved into a small apartment, alone, with no prospects of an acting or singing career where she suffered a nervous breakdown.

Gone But Not Forgotten

September 8, 1965 a friend, Gery Branton, spoke to Dorothy by phone. She was to fly to new York to prepare for a nightclub appearance at Basin Street East. Hours after their conversation Ms. Dandridge was found dead by her manager. Two months later the Los Angeles Coroner determined her death was accidental due to an overdose of Impiramine an antidepressant, she was only 42 years of age.

In 1980 several stars acknowledged Dorothy's contribution to the industry and in 1999, Halle Barry provided a memorable performance in a biography of the star's rise and fall. The performance earned Ms. Berry an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Awards. After winning an Academy Award for the role in Monsters Ball , Berry dedicated the "moment to Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll".

Ms. Dorothy Dandridge has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located 6719 Hollywood Boulevard.

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    • pmccray profile image
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      pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

      Trusouldj you are correct. Ms. Dandridge was very much under rated during her career.

    • trusouldj profile image

      trusouldj 7 years ago from Indiana

      Very nice. I was just watching The Dorothy Dandridge Story a few weeks ago. So sad that her name doesn't roll off the tip of people's tongues like Marilyn, Rita Hayworth and other actresses from that time period.

    • pmccray profile image
      Author

      pmccray 8 years ago from Utah

      Micky Dee; you're so awesome and sweet, thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment. DD was one of my favorites.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 8 years ago

      Beautiful! Just very beautiful! Thanks Pmccray. I loved the videos and the history. Then- in the end- she was taken advantage of. History sure repeats itself!

    • pmccray profile image
      Author

      pmccray 8 years ago from Utah

      JannyC, Mike Lickteig and BkCreative: your comments make it all worth while. I do so love writing about classic Hollywood it is a joy and learning experience rolled into one. Studying classic Hollywood, has been a hobby of mine since childhood. I too remember going to a drive-in (remember those) to watch Carmen Jones.

      Again thanks to all and peace to you and yours.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I certainly did not know that she and her sisters were a kiddie troupe - how interesting. I loved her in Carmen Jones. And I actually remember as a child in the 50's going to see her in Island in the Sun. Loved the limbo dance.

      Thanks for such a lovely hub about one of my favorite actresses - a real woman! And thank you for all your other hubs about Hollywood. It gives us a real understanding of the real deal! I'm going to research her daughter now.

    • Mike Lickteig profile image

      Mike Lickteig 8 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      I don't know a lot about her, but she seemed a fine actress and a beautiful lady. Very well written.

      Mike

    • JannyC profile image

      JannyC 8 years ago

      This was beautifully written. Bravo.

    • pmccray profile image
      Author

      pmccray 8 years ago from Utah

      Thank you Joe for stopping in for a read and leaving a comment both are much appreciated. I have been a fan of classic Hollywood since childhood (I was born in some of the era), and by far Dorothy D. was my all time favorite. I was glad that Ms. Berry did the movie of her life, she never received the accolades that she deserved for her achievements. Thank you again for your comment and peace to your and yours.

    • JOE BARNETT profile image

      JOE BARNETT 8 years ago

      the videos were great!as a kid i would here my dad say" DORTHY DANDRIDGE". i didn't really get to know her till the movie, but she was a great!appreciate the hub!

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