Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge

The history of show business is littered with the remains of those who were unable to deal with its attendant pressures; despite what it may look like to those of us on the outside, such adulation comes with a price too steep for many to pay, and so they pay with their lives...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDorothy Dandridge was one such casualty of fame; a raving beauty, gifted actress, and acclaimed cabaret performer, her 25 years in the public eye exacted the ultimate toll on her. She died in September 1965 at the age of only 42; whether she was murdered or overdosed - or whether that overdose was intentional or accidental - hardly matters now. Only the loss remains; that, and the legacy she left behind.

Born on this day in 1922, Dorothy and her older sister Vivian (along with Etta Jones) performed on the Chitlin' circuit, a kind of black vaudeville, first as the Wonder Children and later as the Dandridge Sisters. Dorothy's mother Ruby was a lesbian, involved with a woman named Geneva Williams; scurrilous rumours abound that Williams molested her lover's daughters. Whether or not that was true, she was a stern taskmaster, working the girls hard both onstage and at home.

Hard work landed Dorothy successively larger roles in various movies, but it wasn't until she was 32 that Dandridge got her big break in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones (1955); for her troubles she was nominated for an Oscar, only the third African-American so honoured and the first in the Best Actress category. She lost the award to Grace Kelly.

The final ten years of Dorothy Dandridge's life were a study in contrasts; she broke many barriers and received much acclaim in front on audiences and cameras, but suffered from a downward spiral of addiction and abuse in private. Following her death she seemed destined to fade into oblivion, and would have too, if not for the cherished place she held in the hearts of two successive generations of black actors like Cicely Tyson, Jada Pinkett, Janet Jackson and Angela Bassett.

Halle Berry didn't so much play her as channel her in the HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and the Emmy she won for the searing performance both revived interest in and in a way vindicated the memory of a gifted performer and a sensitive soul lost to fame.
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Anonymous said...

I love her! Thanks for this post!

Wynn Kozak said...

Thanks for the memory of this lovely, tragic woman

Dignified T.TILLMAN ROCHESTER,MI said...

I am so happy to be an African American, Black or just plain American. Dorothy is an excellent example of grace and strength, she and other blacks who has torn down barriers, and still are. Dorothy Dandridge thanks! Ride in Paradise!