15
Nov
08

Her Swagger: Dorothy Dandridge

Movie nights were a big deal during my freshman year in college. Without the de-stressing I might have exploded. One night, we happened to watch Introducing Dorothy Dandridge starring Halle Berry. I hadn’t heard of Dorothy Dandridge before then but I fell in love with her that night.

Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge

“Whore roles were there, of course. America was not geared to make me into a Liz Taylor, a Monroe, a Gardner. My sex symbolism was as a wanton, a prostitute, not as a woman seeking love and a husband, the same as other women. I had realized everything except the limitations naturally placed upon me through being a Negro.”

Stunning, elegant, graceful, Dorothy got her start traveling the Southern US with her sister Vivian as “The Wonder Children”. Her mother Ruby Dandridge, an aspiring entertainer, moved with her children to Los Angeles. Soon “The Wonder Children” became the Dandridge Sisters and began playing venues including Harlem’s Cotton Club.

By 1935 Dorothy Dandridge began to be cast in small movie roles. She proved her talent with a stellar performance in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Carmen Jones. Starring with an ensemble cast, Dandridge shined. The performance garnered Dorothy Dandridge an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Though she lost to Grace Kelly (The Country Girl), Dandridge became the third Black actress nominated for an Academy Award, after Hattie McDaniel and Ethel Waters (both nominated for Best Supporting Actress), and the first to be nominated for Best Actress.

Dandridge’s life came to an early end in 1965 but her legacy lives.

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