Dorothy Dandridge was born on November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Cyril Dandridge (October 25, 1895 – July 9, 1989), a cabinetmaker and minister, and to Ruby Dandridge (née Butler), an aspiring entertainer. Dandridge’s parents separated shortly before her birth. Ruby Dandridge soon created an act for her two young daughters, Vivian and Dorothy, under the name of “The Wonder Children.” The daughters toured the Southern United States for five years while Ruby worked and performed in Cleveland. During this time, they toured almost non-stop and rarely attended school.
At the onset of the Great Depression, work virtually dried up for the Dandridges, as it did for many of the Chitlin’ circuit performers. Ruby Dandridge moved to Hollywood, California, where she found steady work on radio and film in small parts as a domestic servant. “The Wonder Kids” were renamed “The Dandridge Sisters” and booked into such venues as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City.
Dorothy Dandridge’s first screen appearance was a bit part in a 1935 Our Gang short. In 1937, she appeared in the Marx Brothers feature film, A Day at the Races. In 1940, Dandridge played a murderer in the race film, Four Shall Die. All of her early parts were stereotypical African-American roles, but her singing ability and presence brought her popularity in nightclubs nationwide. During this period, she starred in several “soundies” – film clips designed to be displayed on juke boxes including “Paper Doll” by the Mills Brothers, “Cow Cow Boogie”, “Jig in the Jungle”, “Mr. & Mrs. Carpenter’s Rent Party.”
In 1954, director and writer Otto Preminger cast Dandridge, along with Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, Diahann Carroll, Madame Sul-Te-Wan (uncredited), and Joe Adams in his production of Carmen Jones. However, Dandridge’s singing voice was dubbed by opera singer, Marilyn Horne.
Upon release in 1955, Carmen Jones grossed $60,000 during its first week and $47,000 in its second week. The film received favorable reviews, and Dandridge was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming only the third African American to receive a nomination in any Academy Award category (after Hattie McDaniel and Ethel Waters). Grace Kelly won the award for her performance in The Country Girl. At the awards ceremony, Dandridge presented the Academy Award for Film Editing to Gene Milford for On the Waterfront.
She performed as a vocalist in venues such as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater. In 1954, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Carmen Jones, and, in 1959, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Porgy and Bess. In 1999, she was the subject of the HBO biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She has been recognized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Dandridge was married and divorced twice, first to dancer and entertainer Harold Nicholas (the father of her daughter, Harolyn Suzanne) and then to Jack Denison. Dandridge died of an accidental drug overdose.
Learn a little bit more about Dorthy Dandrige below: