06 February 2013

28 Days of Black History: Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio. She was an actress and singer.

Her mother Ruby also an actress, created an act for Dorothy and her sister, Vivian under the name "The Wonder Children and they toured on the Chitlin' Circuit for 5 years in the Southern United States. At the onset of the Great Depression, work slowed down, so Ruby moved the family to Hollywood, California where she found steady work on radio and film in small parts as a domestic. Ruby also renamed the girls, The Dandridge Sisters in 1937 and booked them into such venues as The Cotton Club and The Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.

Dorothy made her first film appearance in a bit part in an Our Gang comedy, Teachers' Beau in 1935. Her first film credited role came in 1940 in the race film, Four Shall Die as murderer.  In 1954, she signed a 3 movie deal with 20th Century Fox. She was quickly cast in an all-Black cast of Carmen Jones, a role for which she became the 3rd Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award, after Hattie McDaniel and Ethel Waters, however she was nominated as Best Actress which was a first for a Black Woman, she lost to Audrey Hepburn. Dandridge's Voice in Carme was dubbed by opera singer Marilyn Horne.

Dandridge declined many small bit roles, some that required her to be a slave because she didn't want to be portrayed as a slave and she also wanted to be the Star. Fox was having problems finding her lead roles and her declining the small bit roles in The King and I and The Lieutenant Wore Skirts started a slow but steady decline in her film career.

In 1959, Columbia Pictures offered Dorothy the lead role of Bess, in Porgy and Bess which garnered, Dandrige a Golden Globe, she lost to Marilyn Monroe. The film faltered and Dandridge was blamed. Many Blacks felt that Dandridge, who in their eyes proved that a black woman could achieve what a white woman or man could, was "selling out", because she was playing a drug addict in the movie. Blacks felt that the characters in the movie, drug addicts, rapist, drunk, pandered the stereotypes about Blacks.

Dandridge died September 8, 1965 under conflicting circumstances. One report stated she died of an accidental drug overdose and another due to a rare embellish, blockage of the blood passages at the lungs and brain by tiny pieces of fat flaking off from bone marrow in a fractured right foot she sustained while filming a Hollywood movie 5 days before her death, she was only 42 years old.

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