wonder children

Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Jean Dandridge (November 9, 1922September 8, 1965) was an American actress and popular singer. Dandridge was the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Early life and career

Dandridge was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Cyril Dandridge, a cabinetmaker and minister and Ruby Dandridge (née Butler), an aspiring entertainer. Dandridge's parents separated shortly before her birth. Ruby Dandridge soon created an act for her two young daughters, Vivian and Dorothy, under the name of "The Wonder Children." The daughters toured the Southern United States for five years while Ruby worked and performed in Cleveland. During this time, they toured non-stop and rarely attended school.

With the start of the Great Depression, work dried up, as it did for many of the Chitlin' circuit performers. Ruby Dandridge moved to Hollywood, where she found steady work playing domestics in small parts on radio and film. "The Wonder Kids" were renamed "The Dandridge Sisters" and booked into such venues as the Cotton Club and The Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Dandridge's first on-screen appearance was a bit part in a 1935 Our Gang short. In 1937 she appeared in the Marx Brothers feature A Day at the Races.

In 1940, Dandridge played a murderer in the race film Four Shall Die. All of her early parts were stereotypical African-American roles, but her singing ability and presence brought her popularity in nightclubs around the country. During this period, she starred in several "soundies", film clips designed to be displayed on juke boxes, including "Paper Doll" by the Mills Brothers, "Cow Cow Boogie", "Jig in the Jungle", "Mr. & Mrs. Carpenter's Rent Party.

Carmen Jones

In 1954, director and writer Otto Preminger cast Dandridge, along with Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Madame Sul-Te-Wan, and Joe Adams in his production of Carmen Jones. Dandridge's singing voice was dubbed by Marilyn Horne.

Carmen Jones grossed $60,000 during the first week and $47,000 in the second upon release in 1955. The film received favorable reviews, and Dandridge was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming only the third African American to receive a nomination in any Academy Award category (after Hattie McDaniel and Ethel Waters). Grace Kelly won for her performance in The Country Girl. At the ceremony, Dandridge presented the Academy Award for Film Editing to Gene Milford for On the Waterfront.

Personal life

Dandridge married dancer and entertainer Harold Nicholas on September 6, 1942, and gave birth to her only child, Harolyn Suzanne Nicholas, on September 2, 1943. Harolyn was born brain-damaged, and the couple divorced in October 1951.

Dandridge married Jack Denison on June 22, 1959, although amid allegations of domestic abuse and financial setbacks, the pair was divorced. At this time, Dandridge discovered that the people who were handling her finances had swindled her out of $150,000, and that she was $139,000 in debt for back taxes. Forced to sell her Hollywood home and to place her daughter in a state mental institution in Camarillo, California, Dandridge moved into a small apartment at 8495 Fountain Avenue in West Hollywood, California. Alone and without any acting roles or singing engagements on the horizon, Dandridge suffered a nervous breakdown. Shortly thereafter, Earl Mills started arranging her comeback.


On September 8, 1965, Dandridge spoke with friend Gerry Branton. Dandridge was scheduled to fly to New York the next day to prepare for her nightclub engagement at Basin Street East. Several hours after her conversation with Branton ended, Dandridge was found dead by her manager, Earl Mills. Two months later a Los Angeles pathology institute determined the cause to be an accidental overdose of Imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant. She was 42 years old.

On September 12, 1965, a private funeral service was held for Dandridge at the Little Chapel of the Flowers; then she was cremated and her ashes were entombed in the Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.


Many years passed before the entertainment industry acknowledged Dandridge's legacy. Starting in the 1980s, stars such as Cicely Tyson, Jada Pinkett, Halle Berry, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett acknowledged Dandridge's contributions to the role of blacks in film.

In 1999, Halle Berry took the lead role of Dandridge in the HBO Movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, for which she won an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Dorothy Dandridge has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6719 Hollywood Boulevard.



Year Film Role Other notes
1935 The Big Broadcast of 1936 as member of the Dandridge Sisters
Teacher's Beau uncredited
1936 Easy to Take as member of The Dandridge Sisters uncredited
1937 It Can't Last Forever Dandridge Sisters Act uncredited
A Day at the Races Performer in the 'All God's Children Got Rhythm' number uncredited
1938 Going Places Member of Singing/Dancing Trio at Party uncredited
Snow Gets in Your Eyes member of the Dandridge Sisters Vocal Trio uncredited
1940 Irene member of the Dandridge Sisters uncredited
Four Shall Die Helen Fielding
1941 Bahama Passage Thalia
Sundown Kipsang's bride uncredited
Sun Valley Serenade Specialty act
Lady from Louisiana Felice aka Lady from New Orleans
Easy Street
Yes, Indeed!
1942 Lucky Jordan Hollyhock school maid uncredited
Night in New Orleans Sal, Shadrach's girl uncredited
The Night Before the Divorce Maid uncredited
Ride 'Em Cowboy Congoroo uncredited
Drums of the Congo Princess Malimi
1943 Hit Parade of 1943 Count Basie Band Singer aka Change of Heart (USA: reissue title)
Happy Go Lucky Chorine uncredited
1944 Since You Went Away Black Officer's wife in train station uncredited
Atlantic City (1944) Singer aka Atlantic City Honeymoon (USA: reissue title)
1947 Ebony Parade as Dorothy Daindridge
1951 The Harlem Globetrotters Ann Carpenter
Tarzan's Peril Melmendi, Queen of the Ashuba
1953 Bright Road Jane Richards
1954 Carmen Jones Carmen Jones Academy Award nomination
BAFTA Award nomination
1957 Island in the Sun Margot Seaton
The Happy Road aka La Route joyeuse (France)
1958 The Decks Ran Red Mahia aka La Rivolta dell'esperanza (Italy)
Tamango Aiché, Reiker's mistress
1959 Porgy and Bess Bess Golden Globe nomination
1960 Moment of Danger Gianna
1961 The Murder Men Norma Sherman archive footage


Year Film Role Other notes
1945 Pillow to Post Herself - vocalist uncredited
1951-1953 The Colgate Comedy Hour Herself - vocalist
1952 Songs for Sale Herself Episode dated 13 June 1952
1952-1961 Toast of the Town Herself - vocalist 7 episodes, aka The Ed Sullivan Show
1953 Remains to Be Seen Herself
1954 Light's Diamond Jubilee Herself
The George Jessel Show Herself Episode #1.25
1956 Ford Star Jubilee vocalist You're the Top
1962 Cain's Hundred Norma Sherman Blues for a Junkman



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