Trending on Twitter today for #ThursdayThoughts is a montage of birthday wishes and Hollywood memories in honor of the late actress Dorothy Dandridge. Dandridge came through Hollywood during a time when roles for black actresses were limited to only supporting characters who were in servitude positions and often portrayed in full stereotypical fashion. But Dandridge was different than her contemporaries because she refused to accept this was all that she could be in Hollywood. Many consider her the “black Marilyn Monroe,” but she was so much more.
Born on November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, Dorothy Jean Dandridge began her career as part of a singing duo with her sister, The Dandridge Sisters, performing at the Cotton Club, the famous Apollo Theater in New York, and making several uncredited appearances in major motion pictures in the 1930’s. In 1952, Dandridge was discovered by an MGM Studios agent and cast in Bright Road, her first starring role opposite Harry Belafonte. In 1954, Dandridge starred opposite Harry Belafonte again in her most recognized role, Carmen Jones. The film made over $10 million at the box office and earned Dandridge a three-picture deal with 20th Century Fox at $75,000 per film as well as the cover of Life magazine; she was the first black woman to appear on their cover.
Dandridge began to make fewer on-screen appearances as the decade progressed, accepting smaller roles with larger gaps in between performances, though she did record several albums and singles (most went unreleased until 1999).
Dandridge has a tumultuous personal life including a marriage to Harold Nicholas of the famed dancing duo The Nicholas Brothers. The couple was married in 1942; their daughter, Harolyn, was born a year later with brain damage. The couple later divorced in 1951. Dandridge was married again in 1959 to Jack Denison; that marriage also resulted in divorce after three years.
Dandridge died on September 8, 1965 from a rare embolism as the result of a fractured she sustained five days earlier. Other reports attribute the cause of death to an overdose of barbiturates. At the time of her death it is said that Dandridge only had about two dollars in savings to her name.
If you are interested in reading more about the legacy of Dorothy Dandridge, here’s a list of some worthwhile recommendations and descriptions from Amazon.com:
Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography, Donald Bogle
“Filled with photographs, and rich with research as well as personal anecdotes from Harry Belafonte, Etta James and others, Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography is not only a fascinating study of the woman and the performer, but also a riveting look at Black Hollywood as it existed within the larger culture.”
Everything and Nothing: The Dorothy Dandridge Tragedy, Dorothy Dandridge with Earl Conrad
Dorothy Dandridge: Singer & Actress (Essential Lives Series), Deann Herringshaw
Dorothy Dandridge, Kensington
Through interviews and the personal recollections of Hollywood luminaries, Bogle pieces together a remarkable history that remains largely obscure to this day. We discover that Black Hollywood was a place distinct from the studio-system-dominated Tinseltown–a world unto itself, with unique rules and social hierarchy. It had its own talent scouts and media, its own watering holes, elegant hotels, and fashionable nightspots, and of course its own glamorous and brilliant personalities.”