Dorothy Dandridge

Singer / Actor

Born: 9 November 1922
Died: 8 September 1965 (drug overdose)
Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio
Best known as: Star of the movie Carmen Jones
Dorothy Dandridge is the Oscar-nominated actress whose career as a leading lady was curtailed by racism and personal problems in the 1950s. As teens she and her sister Vivian were part of an act known as the Dandridge Sisters; they were good enough to reach New York's famous Cotton Club, and from there Dorothy worked her way into small movie parts in Hollywood. She married dancer Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers in 1942, but it wasn't until they divorced in 1949 that Dandridge's career really took off. A charismatic and striking beauty, she began touring as a nightclub singer. Her big Hollywood break came when she starred as the sultry heroine of the 1954 film Carmen Jones, an adaptation of the Bizet opera Carmen. The film was a hit, and Dandridge became the first African-American woman ever nominated for an Academy Award as best actress. (Grace Kelly won that year, for The Country Girl.) Dandridge also began a stormy affair with the film's director, Otto Preminger. Carmen Jones proved to be the high point of her career; leading roles for black actresses were rare, and she refused to take the bit parts and lesser roles that were offered. Her film career sputtered, though she did star in the daring Island in the Sun (1957, with Dandridge sharing an interracial romance with John Justin), and Porgy and Bess (1959, with Dandridge and Sidney Poitier in the title roles). Her marriage to restaurant owner Jack Denison (1959-1962) was troubled, and Dandridge declared bankruptcy in 1963. She began to revive her nightclub career, but also began drinking heavily and taking antidepressants. She died of an overdose of the antidepressant Tofranil in 1965.
Extra credit: Dandridge was played by actress Halle Berry in the 1999 TV movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. By coincidence, Berry became the first African-American woman to win the Oscar as best actress, for her role in the 2001 film Monster's Ball... Dandridge and Harold Nicholas had one daughter, Harolyn, born in 1943. She suffered from brain damage and was institutionalized for much of her life... It's unknown if Dandridge's fatal overdose was a suicide or an accident; the coroner declared this to be "undetermined."

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