1922: A Young Dorothy
Dorothy Dandridge was born on November 9, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her mother, actress Ruby Dandridge, left Dorothy’s father while she was pregnant, so Dorothy never knew him.
1923: A Famous Mother
Dorothy’s mother, Ruby, was known for her work in television and radio. She raised Dorothy and her other daughter, Vivian, to be performers as well.
1925: Growing Up Performing
At a young age, Dorothy and Vivian (right) began performing as a singing act known as the Wonder Children.
1930: Heading to Hollywood
Dorothy’s family moved to Hollywood around 1930. The future star formed a singing group with Vivian and their friend, Etta Jones, called the Dandridge Sisters.
1931: Singing Success
The Dandridge Sisters were a success. Soon, they became a fixture at clubs across the country and began opening for acts like Cab Calloway and Jimmie Lunceford (pictured).
1932: Facing Discrimination
Although the Dandridge Sisters were highly regarded in the nightclub scene, segregation was still prevalent during this time. The group notably performed at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem, where Black performers “were instructed not to mix with white patrons,” per The New York Times.
1935: Appearing in Film
It wasn’t long before the singing group found themselves on the screen. In 1935, the trio began appearing in film roles as the Dandridge Sisters.
1940: A Big Role
In 1940, Dandridge appeared in her first solo film role. The singer and actress landed the part of Helen Fielding in Four Shall Die.
1941: Success On-Screen
After her solo debut, Dandridge’s talents led her to a successful film career. In 1941 alone, she appeared in four films, including Lady from Louisiana and Sun Valley Serenade.
1942: Getting Married
While working in New York, Dandridge met and struck up a relationship with Harold Nicholas, who was a tap dancer in the Nicholas Brothers group alongside his older brother, Fayard. The two were wed on September 6, 1942.
1943: A Baby Girl
Dandridge and Nicholas welcomed a daughter, Harolyn Suzanne Nicholas, on September 2, 1943. She was born with severe brain trauma, which Dandridge attributed to a delay in her labor after Nicholas left her at home without car keys when she was nine months pregnant.
1947: A Solo Career
After a brief hiatus from performing, Dandridge embarked on a solo singing career and became a regular on the nightclub circuit, including at the Waldorf Astoria’s Empire Room.
1951: Getting Divorced
In 1951, Dandridge divorced Nicholas. After nine years of marriage, Nicholas’s wandering eye reportedly led to the split, as well as him leaving Dandridge to care for their disabled daughter alone.
1951: A Talented Singer
Dandridge’s stardom took off internationally after she appeared in a sold-out residence with Desi Arnaz in 1951 at the Mocambo club in Los Angeles.
1953: Her First Starring Role
Although Dandridge had worked in film for years, she didn’t land a starring film role until 1953, when she appeared in Bright Road as teacher Jane Richards.
1953: Starring as Herself
By 1953, Dandridge had established herself as a star. That year, the singer-actress took to the screen to star as herself in the musical comedy Remains to Be Seen.
1955: Signing with a Studio
Dandridge signed a three-year contract with 20th Century Fox for a starting salary of $60,000 per film in 1955.
1954: Landing Carmen Jones
The peak of Dandridge’s career was earning the starring role in Otto Preminger’s musical Carmen Jones. Here, the actress films a scene for the movie with her costar, Harry Belafonte.
1955: An Iconic Outfit
Dandridge’s iconic costume for her role in Carmen Jones featured a black off-the-shoulder top, a bright red wrap skirt, and gold hoop earrings.
1955: Making History
In 1955, America finally decided to nominate a Black woman in a category and Dorothy was nominated in the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards. She was nominated for her role in Carmen Jones. She lost to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl.
1955: A Hollywood Star
Dandridge also landed the cover of LIFE magazine in 1955.
1955: An International Star
After the success of Carmen Jones, Dandridge traveled to the South of France for the annual Cannes Film Festival. Here, the actress poses in a geometric one-piece as the press catches her taking a dip in the Mediterranean Sea.
1955: Her Signature Look
There was something about Dandridge’s look that captivated audiences, probably her signature curled hair and tangerine-hued lips.
1956: Difficulty Finding Roles
Although Dandridge reached the height of success with an Oscar nomination in 1955, the actress struggled to find more starring roles in Hollywood. The star implied that the issue was her race when she famously told The New York Times, “If I were Betty Grable, I could capture the world.”
1956: Taking a Stance
The actress famously turned down a role in The King and I, because she refused to play the role of a slave. The actress was very outspoken about her frustration with the lack of roles available to her in Hollywood, and her decision to refuse a starring role in a major picture emphasized that.
1957: A Follow-Up Film
It was three years before Dandridge followed up her Academy Award–nominated performance with Island in the Sun.
1957: Defending Herself in Court
Dandridge took the stand to testify against Confidential magazine after the publication printed untrue stories about her in 1957. She was joined by fellow actress Maureen O’Hara in the libel suit.
1959: Another Big Film
Dandridge appeared in one of her most well-known films, Porgy and Bess, in 1959. The actress shared the screen with future Oscar winner Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis Jr.
1959: A Scandalous Affair
While filming Carmen Jones, Dandridge began an affair with the film’s married director, Otto Preminger (far right). The affair lasted for years and was known throughout the industry, but since they were an interracial couple, their relationship was met with much prejudice. The pair split in 1959 after their film, Porgy and Bess, finishing filming.
1959: Getting Married Again
Dandridge met Las Vegas restaurant owner Jack Denison soon after her relationship with Preminger ended, and they got married on June 22, 1959. Denison was reportedly abusive, and Dandridge began misusing alcohol around this time as a way to cope.
1960: Returning to the Stage
Dandridge joined Louis Armstrong for a vaudeville act titled Harlem on Parade in 1960.
1960: A Place on Television
Dandridge also landed a recurring role on the popular TV show The Ed Sullivan Show as a singer in 1960. She appeared on the program until 1961.
1961: A Bad Investment
Dandridge’s second husband reportedly mishandled her money. The nightclub owner lost the bulk of her savings after using it to invest in his failed restaurant.
1962: Another Divorce
Dandridge and Denison split in 1962. The end of the relationship left the singer-actress on the brink of bankruptcy.
1962: Her Final Role
Dandridge’s final role was in the 1962 film Marco Polo. The actress appeared on-screen as Empress Zaire. Here, she poses with her dog at Orly Airport in Paris.
1963: Standing for Civil Rights
Dandridge greets Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Wrigley Field. The actress joined the civil rights leader as he addressed a crowd during a peaceful protest.
1963: Financial Ruin
After the mismanagement of her money, Dandridge was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1963. Here, the actress leaves the courthouse after the proceedings.
1963: Losing Her Daughter
After filing for bankruptcy, Dandridge was no longer able to pay for her daughter’s medical care and, as a result, she was forced to commit Harolyn to a state institution.
1965: A Tragic Death
On September 8, 1965, Dandridge was found dead in her apartment at the age of 42. Her death was labeled an accidental drug overdose from the antidepressants she was taking.
1965: Remembering an Icon
Despite her relatively short time in the spotlight, Dandridge has had a lasting impact on Hollywood. In 1999, the film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,starring Halle Berry, brought awareness to the life of the singer-actress and the adversity she faced in the industry.
Dorothy Dandridge documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jt5ypoJGQUk