Dorothy Dandridge Overview:

Legendary actress, Dorothy Dandridge, was born Dorothy Jean Dandridge on Nov 9, 1922 in Cleveland, OH. Dandridge died at the age of 42 on Sep 8, 1965 in West Hollywood, CA .

Early Life

Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio. Her childhood would be far from idyllic. Her father, Cyril, was a minister/cabinet maker while her mother, Rudy, was an aspiring entertainer. Before Dorothy was even born, Rudy left Dorothy's father and took her other daughter, Vivian, with her. Dorothy would never meet her father. After the divorce Rudy would immediately place her dreams of entertainment on her daughters, thrusting them in to show business at a very young age. She created a song-and-dance act for the pair, dubbing them "The Wonder Children."  Also during this time, Dorothy's mother would become romantically involved with her longtime friend, Geneva Williams. Williams would often play the role of disciplinary to the young Dandridge sisters, pushing them to work to the point of exhaustion and cruelly punishing them when they did not meet her standards. The sister would spend five years touring the Southern portion of the United States, missing out on a proper education and a normal childhood. After the Great Depression hit, the two sisters found themselves out of work and by 1930 the Dandridge family moved to Los Angeles in search of more work.

Early Career

Upon arriving is Los Angels, the Dandridge family met another young, aspiring singer, Etta Jones. The soon added her to the"The Wonder Children" lineup and renamed themselves "The Dandridge Sisters." They trio soon began booking gigs all around California, even playing with the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra and Cab Calloway. During these tours, the Dandridge sisters were confronted with the segregation and racism of the entertainment industry. Although they were allowed to play for white audiences, they often times were not even permitted to eat in the restaurants or use the restrooms of the venues they performed at thanks to the color of their skin.

In 1935 Dandridge made her film debut in the short Teacher's Beau. Two years later the sisters would make an appearance in the Marx Brother's film A Day at the Races. The trio continued to tour California but would soon proved popular outside of the west coast and got booked at the famed Cotton Club. After their successful showing there, they soon were booked at a slew of New York venues, including the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Dandridge was just 16 years old. With the sisters becoming an increasingly larger draw, they soon began European tour. However, with the onset of World War Two, the tour was cut short and the sister returned the United States. At this point, Dandridge was in relationship with Harold Nicolas, one half the dancing duo, The Nicolas Brothers and soon help Dandridge get a bit role in the race film Four Shall Die. It was at this time The Dandridge sisters broke up, for Dorothy wished to focus on a solo career.

Going Solo

After leaving The Dandridge Sisters, Dorothy began concentrating on her film career. In 1941 she had small role in the John Wayne vehicle Lady From Louisiana. She then appeared in a dance number with now hubby Harold Nicolas in the film Sun Valley Serenade. Their dance routine was cut from many showings in the American South. That same year she had bit roles in films like Sundown and Bahama Passage. In 1942 Dandridge played the supporting role of Princess Malimi in Drums of the Congo but was soon related to small, uncredited roles in films like 1942's Lucky Jordan and 1943's Happy Go Lucky. In 1943 she managed a small but respectable role in Hit Parade of 1943. She would appear in two more films, both released in 1944, before taking an extended break from performance to work on her marriage.

Tragedy and Movie Hiatus

In 1943 Dandridge gave birth to her and Harold's only child, Harolyn. Although it should have been a joyous occasion, it was anything but. When Dandridge went into labor, she was stuck home alone because of her husband's constant touring schedule. As the child grew, Dandridge noticed the child was not developing properly. She couldn't speak, and was unresponsive to most external stimulus. The child would eventually be diagnosed with brain damage that the doctors stated was due to lack of oxygen to the brain during the home delivery. By this Dandridge became aware of her husband's frequent philandering. She became increasingly depressed, blaming herself for her child's mental condition as well as her husband's cheating ways. During this time Dandridge stayed away from the movie business, only appearing as herself in 1945's Pillow to Post. She did, however, sing in nightclubs from time to time to support her daughter's medical needs. It would not be until 1949 that Dandridge would divorce Nicolas and head back to Hollywood.

Return to Performance

In late 1940's Dandridge worked with Jazz musician, Phil Moore, to revamp her image from song-and-dance cutie to a more sophisticated and sexy songstress. He would then help her become a regular on the nightclub scene and soon she began touring nationally. In 1951 Dandridge had a three and half month gig at the famed La Vie En Rose nightclub and was touring internationally.  Although the nightclub scene brought her back in to the public, Dandridge hated it. Although she was allowed to perform at non-black venues, she was not allowed to speak with the audience, eat in the restaurant, use the hotel lobbies or swim in the pools. The only reason she even went on these degrading tours was to use them as stepping-stone back to Hollywood. The tactic worked and soon she was offered bit parts back in Hollywood.

In 1951 Dandridge appeared on the screen for the first time in six year with the film Tarzan's Peril as Melmendi, an Africa Queen. Although happy to be back in the movie business was unhappy that it had to be with such a stereotypical role.  That same year she received second billing in the Phil Brown film The Harlem Globetrotters. The next year she continued to travel the nightclub circuit. In 1953 Dandridge was finally cast in her first starring role as Jane Richards, a dedicated young teacher opposite Harry Belafonte in the Bright Road. The film did abysmal at the box-office and was said to have hurt Dandridge's chances at landing further leading roles. She remained successful on the nightclub circuit and later that year played herself in the musical revue Remains to be Seen. By the next year, Dandridge's nightclub popularity was so strong that Twentieth Century Fox took their chances and signed her to a three-picture contract.

Breakthrough Role

In 1954 Dandridge starred opposite Harry Belafonte, Brock Peters, Diahann Carroll and Olga James adaptation of the Bizet opera Carmen, titled Carmen Jones. Directed by Otto Preminger, the film was considered a big financial risk due its all-black cast. In the film. Dandridge played the title role of Carmen Jones, the sexy but tragic vixen looking for love in all wrong places. The film was released to generally positive reviews and was a huge hit at the box-office, attracting both black and white audiences across the country. For her efforts, Dandridge was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Awards. She was the first black actress to receive this honor but would lose to Grace Kelly for her role in The Country Girl


With Carmen Jones under her belt, Dandridge assumed the roles would come pouring in. And in 1955 she was offered the role of Tuptim in The King and I, but refused because she did not wise to degrade herself by playing a slave after having just been nominated for an Oscar. Although morally righteous in her stance, it did nothing for her career and the offers she assumed would pour in began to dry up.  It would be three years before she made another silver screen appearance, this time opposite James Mason and Joan Fontaine in Island in the Sun. In 1958 she appeared in the forgettable The Decks Ran Red. Her only other role of note came in 1959 with Otto Preminger's Porgy and Bess. Although a strong role that tested her ability as an actress, she faced backlash from the black community who thought she had "sold out" by play a seemingly stereotypical role of drug addict. She would appear in one more film, 1960's Malaga opposite Trevor Howard.

After putting much of her money towards bad investment, by 1962, Dandridge found herself broke. Although she continued to work in nightclub scene, her popularity had dwindled to fraction of what it once was and by 1963, she could no longer pay for the 24-hour care her daughter needed. Lynn was then placed in a state institution. Soon after, Dandridge suffered a nervous breakdown.  On September 8th, 1965, Dorothy Dandridge was found dead in her Hollywood home of an apparent drug overdose. She was 42 years old. 

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Although Dandridge was nominated for one Oscar, she never won a competitive Academy Award.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1954Best ActressCarmen Jones (1954)Carmen JonesNominated

She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.

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By KC on Feb 8, 2010 From Classic Movies

is irresistably fresh-faced and enthusisastic in the 1942 soundie A Zoot Suit with a Reet Pleat. It would have been wonderful to see her star in a high-stepping forties musical, but I'm glad we at least have performances like this to savor: Here's another short ... Read full article

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Dorothy Dandridge Quotes:

Carmen Jones: 'Scuse my dust, gentlemen. The air's gettin' mighty unconditioned 'round here.

Joe: Thanks, but I don't drink.
Carmen Jones: Boy, if the army was made up of nothin' but soldiers like you, war wouldn't do nobody no good.

read more quotes from Dorothy Dandridge...

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Best Actress Oscar 1954

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Dorothy Dandridge Facts
Dated music composer Phil Moore, who was instrumental in launching her career as a nightclub singer in the 1940s.

Now thought to have suffered from manic depression.

Great aunt of Nayo Wallace.

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