Dorothy Dandridge

Active - 1935 - 2011  |   Born - Nov 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, United States  |   Died - Sep 8, 1965   |   Genres - Drama, Music, Comedy, Adventure, Film, TV & Radio

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Biography by Rovi

African American actress, singer, dancer Dorothy Dandridge, the daughter of stage and screen actress Ruby Dandridge, began performing professionally in the song-and-dance duo "The Wonder Children" with her sister Vivian at age four; they toured parts of the South, performing at churches, schools, and social gatherings. In the 1930s her family relocated to Los Angeles, and she and her sister appeared briefly in the Marx brothers comedy A Day at the Races (1937). In their teens she and her sister enlisted a third singer and formed a new group, the Dandridge Sisters. They worked with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra and Cab Calloway, appeared at the Cotton Club, and turned up with Louis Armstrong and Maxine Sullivan in the film Going Places (1939). Dandridge started performing solo in the early '40s, appearing in a string of musical shorts made in 1941 and 1942; she also performed in several features in the same years, including Sun Valley Serenade (1942), during the production of which she met her first husband, the dancer Harold Nicholas. After her marriage she put her career on hold for a while, but the birth of a severely brain-damaged daughter strained her marriage and it soon ended in divorce, following which she put most of her energy into her career. She became popular and famous as a sultry nightclub entertainer, then began to make her mark in movies with her notable appearance in Tarzan's Peril (1951), in which she played a sexy African princess. For her work in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones (1954) she received a "Best Actress" Oscar nomination, becoming the first black women to do so. Three years went by before her next role, in Island in the Sun (1957), in which she again made history by being the first black actress cast romantically with a white actor in a film. For her work in Preminger's Porgy and Bess (1959) she won the Golden Globe Award as "Best Actress in a Musical." After a few more years she found it difficult to get lead roles in films, and went back to nightclubs. In 1965 she signed a new film contract, but her rebounding luck was short-lived -- she was found dead from an overdose of anti-depressants.

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  • Dropped out of high school and joined forces with her sister and Etta Jones to create a performing trio called the Dandridge Sisters.
  • Performed as a nightclub singer at the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater.
  • Was the first African-American nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award (for her role in Carmen Jones).
  • Had one child, a daughter, with first husband Harold Nicholas. She was born with a brain injury and was eventually put in a state hospital after Dandridge could no longer afford her care.
  • Died of an accidental drug overdose at age 42.