I first heard of Dorothy Dandridge when Halle Berry played her in the tale-drama movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge in 1999. The movie portrayed Dandridge as a woman before her time who could have risen to greatness had it not been for the racism of the times. The movie garnered over twenty nominations and eight awards. Her name is mentioned as inspiration by numerous modern day black actresses.
Dorothy Dandridge was born November 9, 1922 in Cleveland Ohio to local performer, Ruby Dandridge. Ruby’s best roles were as domestics in Hollywood movies. She got her daughters, Vivian and Dorothy into acting who toured the South billed as the Wonder Children. They were managed by Geneva Williams, Ruby’s lesbian partner. They had little formal education. The girls were renamed The Dandridge Sisters and appeared in the Cotton Club and Apollo Theatre. Dorothy appeared in an Our Gang short in 1935 and a Mark Brothers Film, in 1937 where she sang a solo. In 1940 she played a murderer the movie Four Shall Die, which was a stereotypical African American Role. Her singing ability kept her booked in nightclubs nationwide and she starred in several “soundie” films.
Dorothy Dandridge was discovered in 1954 by Otto Preminger who decided to do an all-Negro cast of Carmen. Dorothy dressed in cut off black blouse, and a red skirt with a red flower in her hair in order to land the role of Carmen Jones after being offered the part of Cindy Lou because she seemed too sweet for the part. Also in the movie was Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carrol and other famous black actors of the time. Dandridge’s voice in the movie was dubbed by Opera Singer Marilyn Horne.
Dandridge participated in the 1957 libel trial of Hollywood Research Inc, a company that published tabloid magazines. The company was in the habit of paying hotel attendants and house cleaners for stories, which were often false. Dorothy Dandridge was accused of many acts of casual sex in these stories. Her testimony proved that the stories were libelous. In once case, where she was accused of having sex in the woods, Dorothy testified that it could not be true because segregation laws had her confined to her hotel room. After the trial, Dorothy made a short come back in 1965 where she sold our audiences and made two movies.
Dorothy Dandridge was married twice and had one child, who was born brain damaged. Her first husband and the father of her child was Harold Nicolas, an African American Tap Dancer. He divorced Dorothy after 9 years of marriage. Her second husband, Jack Dennison, a white Restaurateur was abusive and took a great deal of her money before, and during the divorce when he got half of everything she owned. After discovering that she was broke due to her accountants cheating her and leaving her with a large tax bill, she put her daughter into a state mental institution and moved into a small apartment where she died in 1965 of an overdose of antidepressants. She was 42 years old.