Dorothy Dandridge

(1922–1965) An American film and theatre actress, singer and dancer born

in Cleveland, Dandridge is perhaps one of the most famous black actresses to have a

successful Hollywood career and the first to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the 1954 film Carmen Jones. Her mother Ruby created a song-and-dance act for her two young daughters, Vivian and Dorothy, under the name The Wonder Children, that was managed by Geneva Williams.

The sisters toured the Southern United States almost nonstop for five years (rarely attending school), while Ruby worked and performed in Cleveland. The Dandridge Sisters continued strong for several years, and were booked in several high-profile nightclubs, including the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater

Dandridge’s first on-screen appearance was a small part in an Our Gang comedy short, Teacher’s Beau, in 1935.  As a part of The Dandridge Sisters, she also appeared in The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1936) with Bill “Bojangles” RobinsonA Day at the Races with the Marx Brothers, and It Can’t Last Forever (both 1937) with the Jackson Brothers. Although these appearances were relatively minor, Dandridge continued to earn recognition through continuing her nightclub performances nationwide.

During the Great Depression, work virtually dried up for the Dandridges, as it did for many Chitlin’ Circuit performers, so Ruby moved to Hollywood, California, where she found steady work on radio and film in small domestic-servant parts. She appeared in a succession of films including Bright Road (1953), in which she starred opposite Harry Belafonte, Carmen Jones (1954), an adaptation of Bizet’s opera with an all-black cast, and Island in the Sun (1957) with James Mason, Belafonte, Joan Collins and Joan Fontaine.

In 1959, Dandridge was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Porgy and Bess. She is the subject of the 1999 HBO biographical film, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She has been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Dorothy Dandridge, 1962