The first black woman to be nominated for an oscar, Dandridge is the perfect example of someone whose career was held back due to race, and the unfortunate social climate she lived in. as she said herslelf, ‘If I had been white I could take over the world.”
Dandridge refused to play roles which called for her to play a slave or housekeeper. Those were the characters which most mainstream gave to black actors. see Gone With The Wind for a perfect example. In the 1950s there were no films in which a black actress could be seen to have a relationship with a white actor, a taboo that still stands to this day, even in recent films the possibility of any erotic attraction between Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington is strictly downplayed. Or look at Hitch, in which Eva Mendes stands in for the white woman in a mixed race relationship.
Dorothy Dandridge was gloriosly, magnificently beautiful, her cafe au lait skin tone and knock-out figure put her on the front of Time magazine.
She was an actress as a child but she got her first big role in Carmen jones, the musical that transposed the opera Carmen from 19th century Spain to present day America in the black slums of Harlem, the normally regal looking actress got the opportunity to wear tight fitting tops and trousers, see the fabulous image below.
Otto Preminger, a man noted for his bullish tendencies and general air of somebody you did not want to fuck with, directed the film. He had previously violated the Hays code by including such profanities virgin and mistress in the Moon Is Blue. Preminger sued the film censorship board and the state of kansas when they attempted to effectively prevent cinemas from exhibiting the film.
Carmen Jones was fabulous and Dandridge was great too, the film won her a nomination for best actress, a category that included Grace Kelly (Country Girl) and Audrey Hepburn (Sabrina). She had two more films in her contract for Fox but the studio did not know how to cast her. She was in the controversial Islands in the Sun as an Indian woman (1957). Her last big role was Porgy and Bess (1959). The filmm hardly gave a positive depiction of black characters, even if she wasn’t playing servants oor slaves, Porgy was a drug addict and Bess a woman with a disreputable past, but at least it was written by George Gershwin. The film was not a success. To this day it is unavailable on DVD. Dorothy Dandridge a few more films, Tamango and Moment of Danger are two of little consequence. Her lovers icluded such luminaries as the already mentioned Otto Premingrer, Curt Jurgens and Peter Lawford, the first of her two husbands was Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas brothers. She died in poverty, having only $2.14 to her name, committing suicide from a drug overdose.
She was played by Halle Berry in TV biopic The Dorothy Dandridge (1999).