Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born in Cleveland, Ohio on November 9, 1922. Under the prodding of her mother, Dorothy and her sister began performing publicly usually in black Baptist churches throughout the country. Her mother, an entertainer herself, would often join her daughters on stage. As the depression worsened, Dorothy and her family picked up and moved to Los Angeles where they had hopes of finding better work, perhaps in film. Her first film was in the Marx Brothers comedy, A Day at the Races (1937). It was only a bit part but Dorothy had hopes that it would blossom into something better. But because she was a black woman in a very prejudiced society, she didn’t land the roles that were readily available to her white counterparts. She did not appear in another film until 1940 in Four Shall Die (1940). The role was nothing great other than to establish the fact that she was very beautiful and talented. Her next few roles in the early forties included films such as Bahama Passage (1941), Drums of the Congo (1942), and Hit Parade of 1943 (1943). There were others in between, of course, but they were the usual black stereotypical films for women such as Dorothy. Not only was she a talented actress but she could also sing which was evident in films such as Atlantic City (1944) and Pillow to Post (1945). This helped to showcase her talents as a singer and brought her headline acts in the nation’s finest hotel nightclubs in New York, Miami, Chicago, and Las Vegas. She may have been allowed to sing in these fine hotels, but because of racism, she couldn’t stay there. It was reported that one hotel drained its swimming pool to keep her from enjoying that little amenity. In 1954, Dorothy appeared in the all-black production of Carmen Jones (1954) in the title role. She was so superb in that picture that she garnered an Academy Award nomination but lost out to Grace Kelly in The Country Girl (1954). Despite the nomination for her performance, Dorothy did not get another movie until she appeared in Tamango (1958) which was an Italian film. She was to make six more motion pictures, of which Island in the Sun (1957) and Porgy and Bess (1959) were worthy of mention. Once again she was a standout. The last movie she would ever play would be in 1961’s The Murder Men (1961). Dorothy faded quickly after that with a poor second marriage to Jack Denison (her first was to Haroled Nicholas), poor investments, other financial woes, and a problem with alcohol. She was found dead in her West Hollywood apartment on September 8, 1965, the victim of a barbiturate poisoning. She was only 42. Had she been born 20 years later, Dorothy Dandridge would no doubt be one of the most well-known actresses in film history.
While the majoroty of her career was based in the US, she does seem to have become more avtive in Europe towards the later stages of her life. As well as the UK production The Murder Men, a couple of her other films were also shot in Britain. Then there’s Tamango, an Italo-French co-production, directed by an American filmmaker, John Berry, who had left the states after becoming caught up in the whole McCarthy hysteria. In it she stars as the ex-slave and mistress to Curd Jurgens, Dutch captain of a slave vessel. When his human cargo revolts and takes control of the ship, she’s left with the power of deciding his fate. That was her only contact with Italian cinema, though.