Many years passed before the mainstream entertainment industry recognized Dandridge’s heritage. Her power to break new ground for African American girls in movie has drawn comparisons between her and baseball great Jackie Robinson.
In her youth, Dandridge experienced some problems. She never knew her dad. Her mom, actress Ruby Dandridge, left her dad while she was pregnant with Dorothy. Dandridge afterwards endured in the hands of her mom’s girlfriend, Geneva Williams. Williams was the displinarian in the household and was known for being strict and cruel with Dandridge. Dandridge was shoved into show business at a young age by her mom. Dandridge performed along with her sister Vivian to get a period as a song and dance team billed as “The Wonder Children.” The girls performed throughout the South, playing black churches as well as other places.
In the 1930s (one source says 1929), Dandridge moved to La, California, with her family in search of stardom. She got some success along with her musical trio, the Dandridge Sisters. The group comprised Dorothy, her sister Vivian and Etta Jones. They performed together with the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra and Cab Calloway. The duet even played shows in the well-known Cotton Club in Harlem. As an African American vocalist, Dandridge faced early on the segregation and racism of the entertainment industry. She might have let on stage, but in some places she could not eat in the restaurant or use specific facilities because of the colour of her skin. As a teen, Dandridge started to appear in small parts in several pictures. She and her sister appeared in the Marx Brothers movie A Day at the Races (1937). The couple’s tap dancing routine was cut in the variation of the picture shown in the South.
The exact same year, she married Harold Nicholas. However, their marriage proved to be anything but a joyful one. During their troubled marriage, Dandridge practically retired from performing. Nicholas apparently enjoyed to pursue other girls. But her best heartbreak came in 1943 together with the arrival of her first and just child. She was stuck home alone when she went into labour. Dandridge attributed her husband for their daughter’s serious brain damage. Dandridge paid for his or her daughter Harolyn to receive private attention. After her divorce in 1951, Dandridge returned to the club circuit, this time as an effective solo vocalist. She won her first starring movie role in 1953’s Bright Road, playing an serious and dedicated young schoolteacher opposite Harry Belafonte.
With her sultry looks and flirtatious design, Dandridge became the very first African American to earn an Academy Award nomination for the best actress. However, following the extraordinary success of Carmen Jones, Dandridge looked well on her approach to becoming the primary non-white performer to get the type of superstardom that had accrued to contemporaries like Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner.
In the years that followed her success with Carmen Jones, nevertheless, Dandridge had trouble locating movie parts that suited her abilities. She needed powerful leading characters, but she located her chances restricted due to her race. Based on The New York Times, Dandridge once said, “If I were Betty Grable, I really could capture the planet.” Her Carmen Jones costar additionally addressed this problem, saying that Dandridge “was the appropriate man in the correct spot in the incorrect time,” according to the Boston Globe.
Besides Carmen Jones, Dandridge’s only other excellent movie was 1959’s Porgy and Bess, where she played Bess opposite Sidney Poitier. It had been rumored that she’d play Billie Holliday in a movie version of Lady Sings the Blues directed by Orson Welles, but it never panned out. In the racially disharmonious 1950s, Hollywood filmmakers couldn’t seem to generate the right character for the lightskinned Dandridge, plus they soon reverted to discreetly prejudiced visions of interracial love affair.
While making Carmen Jones, Dandridge became involved in a heated, secret relationship with all the movie’s director, Otto Preminger, who also directed Porgy and Bess. He was verbally abusive and mishandled her cash. She lost much of her savings to poor investments, including Denison’s eatery, which neglected in 1962. He left her shortly after.
As her movie career and union neglected, Dandridge started drinking heavily and taking antidepressants. The risk of insolvency and nagging issues using the IRS compelled her to restart her club profession, but she found only a portion of her former success. Relegated to second rate cocktail lounges and stage productions, Dandridge’s fiscal situation grew worse and worse. By 1963, she could not manage to buy her daughter’s 24 hour medical care, and Harolyn was put in a state association. Dandridge shortly suffered a nervous breakdown.
On September 8, 1965, Dorothy Dandridge was discovered dead in her Hollywood home. It was later ruled that her departure was the result of a barbiturate overdose. Dandridge had little more than $2 in her bank account during the time of her passing. Dorothy Dandridge’s exceptional and heartbreaking story became the subject of renewed curiosity about the late 1990s, starting in 1997 together with the launch of a biography, Dorothy Dandridge, by Donald Bogle, as well as a two-week retrospective at Nyc ‘s Film Forum.