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Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge was the first African American female to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Actress category, and Best Actress by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for her role in the film Carmen Jones (1957).

Dandridge was the second child of Cyril and Ruby Dandridge. She was born in Cleveland, Ohio on November 9, 1922. At a young age, Ruby began taking her two daughters on the road to perform in church revivals and other venues all over the south. Known as the “Wonder Children,” Vivian, and Dorothy sang, danced, recited poetry and did acrobatics. They eventually moved to Los Angeles, where Dorothy and her sister, Vivian, and a third girl Etta Jones, formed the singing trio, the Dandridge Sisters. They performed with Jimmie Lunceford’s Orchestra and Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club.

After a short-lived marriage to Harold Nicholas, Dorothy returned to work singing in nightclubs and finding small parts in films like Tarzan’s Peril (1951) and the Harlem Globetrotters (1951). After appearing in the all-black film, Bright Road, Dorothy got an audition with Otto Preminger. Preminger was to direct Carmen Jones, a film based on the famous Bizet opera, Carmen. Carmen Jones rocketed Dorothy Dandridge to fame. Receiving rave reviews, she was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Actress category, and Best Actress by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. While she did not win, she was signed to a three-year contract with Twentieth-Century Fox. Unfortunately, they found few roles for her.

In 1957, she was cast in Island in the Sun (1957), her first interracial film relationship. Her few remaining roles included interracial love themes, but each time the directors succumbed to the pressures of the producers and studios and refrained from displaying a kiss or any intimacy between Dandridge and her costars. These films included Tamango (1957) and The Decks Ran Red (1957). Dandridge died in 1965 from an apparent drug overdose.


Charlene Regester, African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility, 1900-1960 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010); Lorraine LoBianco, “Starring Dorothy Dandridge” 12/10/2013; Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts: Subject: Dorothy Dandridge.”


White, Claytee D.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas