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Thu, 11.09.1922

Entertainer Dorothy Dandridge could do it all

Dorothy Dandridge

*This date marks the birth of Dorothy Dandridge in 1922. She was an African American actress, singer, dancer, and entertainer.

Dorothy Jean Dandridge was from Cleveland, her mother was an aspiring actress named Ruby Dandridge. Ruby had walked out on Dorothy's father, moved into an apartment with a friend, (Geneva Williams) who became instrumental in teaching Dorothy and her sister singing, dancing and piano. They moved to Nashville and were signed with the National Baptist Convention to tour churches throughout the southern states. The Great Depression put a halt to progress and moved to Hollywood. The Dandridge Sisters, as they were know received an unaccredited cameo in the film The Big Broadcast of 1936. They played the Cotton Club where they were a hit and soon toured Europe.

The girls returned to Hollywood, but they eventually split up due in part to Dandridge's increasing desire to have a solo career. In 1942, she married Harold Nicholas, a daughter; Lynn was born a year later. By the time Lynn was two, she noticed that Lynn was not acting normally; soon diagnosed as disabled. Harold was often on the road touring and he did not offer much solace. In 1949, they divorced, Ruby and Geneva looked after Lynn while Dandridge tried to re-establish her career. She still wanted to act in films but she realized that that possibility was slim.

She did not relish the thought of returning to nightclubs, especially in Las Vegas where racism was almost a bad as in the south. The reviews were very good and that would help her get film work at The Mocambo in Hollywood and numerous guest television appearances. MGM offered and Dorothy enthusiastically accepted a role an all black drama called Bright Road. The film opened in April of 1953 to good reviews.

When Dandridge heard that an all Black production of Carmen Jones was being planned, she knew this was the role she had dreamed of. The project was the mastermind of Austrian director Otto Preminger. Carmen Jones was a resounding success and Dandridge was the first Black woman to be nominated in the category of Best Actress. In 1959, came the film Porgy and Bess. She reluctantly accepted but the entire shoot was to be an unhappy one and the reviews were mediocre.

However she won a Golden Globe Award for her performance. Dorothy's life seemed to unravel later that year. In 1963 she declared bankruptcy, continued to drink heavily, was a very lonely woman and she often sounded disoriented. She was given a prescription antidepressant drug that seemed to lift her spirits. On the morning of September 8, 1965, Dorothy Dandridge was found lying dead on the bathroom floor. Her death was from an overdose of the antidepressant that she was taking. Dorothy's daughter, Harolyn, still lives in a California institution.

Reference:
Great African American Women
By Darryl Lyman
Jonathan David Publisher, Inc. Middle Village, NY
Copyright 1999
ISBN 0-8246-0412-1

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