Dorothy Dandridge via the Biography Youtube Channel
CAIRO – 9 November 2017: November 9 is the birthday of singer and actress Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Oscar. A beautiful actress shackled by Hollywood racism, Dandridge saw a tragic life and death.
Born in 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, Dandridge’s mother was Ruby Dandridge, an entertainer and comedy actress of her own who brought up her daughters into show business as soon as they were able to perform. Together with her sister Vivian, Dandridge and their friend Etta Jones were part of a musical group called "The Dandridge Sisters," originally the “Wonder Sisters.” Her mother’s companion, Geneva Williams, was cruel, overworking and abusing them, a fact that their mother seemed blind to.
By the 1930s, her family had moved to Los Angeles, where the Dandridge Sisters group was formed and toured various nightclubs. She would experience the cruelty of racial segregation firsthand being unable to eat at restaurants, even if she performed there. Despite her harsh upbringing, Dandridge grew into a beautiful and strong woman, and managed to land a few bit roles in film.
Her most notable early role was in the 1941 musical “Sun Valley Serenade,” where she danced alongside the black tap-dancing Nicholas brothers. She eventually went on to marry Howard Nicholas, though the marriage was not a happy one; Nicholas was verbally abusive towards his wife and preferred the company of other women. Worse still, he abandoned Dandridge after their only child, Harolyn Suzanne Nicholas, was born brain damaged due to a difficult birth.
Dandridge did everything she could to “cure” her child, but could find nothing. As a reprieve from her harsh life, Dandridge delved further into her career. After her divorce from Howard in 1951, she would land one of her biggest film roles yet.
Starring as the title role in the 1954 all-black movie “Carmen Jones,” this film would see Dandridge become the first black woman to ever be considered for an Academy Award, and in 1955, she had been featured on the cover of Life magazine. It was a brief moment of joy in a life that had been so marred by oppression and pain, but it was not to last. Though she continued to sing at nightclubs and act, it grew harder and harder to find the roles she wanted, all thanks to Hollywood’s racism.
Her second marriage to Jack Denison in 1959 also proved to be unhappy, and it was because of his mishandling of their funds that she wound up losing much of her hard-earned savings. They divorced in 1962, and it would only be a few years later that Dandridge was found dead of an apparent drug overdose on September 8, 1965. She was only 42.
In 1999, a biopic film featuring Halle Berry as Dandridge titled "Introducing Dorothy Dandrige" helped bring the actress’s tragic life back into public awareness. Dandridge had everything set to become a household name like Marilyn Monroe, but a combination of a life filled with abuse and Hollywood’s systematic racism ensured her flame would be put out swiftly.
According to The Washington Post, her “Carmen Jones” co-star Harry Belafonte solemnly remarked that Dandridge "was the right person in the right place at the wrong time."
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