Dandridge had been in show business since childhood, for she was the daughter of an actress. She bad a double act with her sister. Vivian, and by, say, 1939, she was a sixteen-year-old sexpot who could sing and dance—in the age of Butterfly McQueen and Hattie McDaniel. And so her real youth was wasted away in black nightclubs and in movies like A Day at the Races (37, Sam Wood); Going Places (38, Ray Enright); Lady from Louisiana (41, Bernard Vorhaus); Sundown (41, Henry Hathaway); with the Nicholas Brothers, doing “Chattanooga Choo-Choo" in Sun Valley Serenade (41, H. Bruce Humberstone); Bahama Passage (41, Edward Griffith); Lucky Jordan (42, Frank Tuttle); Hit Parade of 1943 (43, Albert S. Rogell); Since You Went Away (44, John Cromwell); Atlantic City (44, Ray McCarey); Tarzan’s Peril (51, Byron Haskin); The Harlem Globetrotters (51, Phil Brown).
Then she got a real part, opposite Harry Belafonte, in Bright Road (53, Gerald Mayer), and after Remains to Be Seen (53, Don Weis) she got Carmen Jones. She was nominated for that: the first time a black player had been proposed for the Oscar in a lead role—her rivals were Judy Garland in A Star Is Born. Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession, and, the winner, Grace Kelly in The Country Girl.
Of course, life only got harder after that breakthrough. Preminger liked to keep their affair secret (what a subject for a Preminger movie). No one could find a lead role for her. So she could not even kiss John Justin three years later in Island in the Sun (57, Robert Rossen). She is very good in The Decks Ran Red (58, Andrew L. Stone), and then Preminger cast her again, opposite Sidney Poitier, in Porgy and Bess (59). In fact, her best role was as Curt Jurgenss mistress (a part she played in life, too) in Tamango (57, John Berry) Her last film was Malaga (60, Laslo Benedek).
Then she lost her money in a swindle and went back to minor nightclub work. It is likely that she took her own life.
In 1999, Halle Berry—also from Cleveland— brought Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (Martha Coolidge) to the television screen. The biopic was closer to the facts than is usual in these things: the failed marriage to Harold Nicholas, and the retarded daughter; the affair with Otto Preminger; and the awful second marriage to a restaurateur—all were there. Moreover, Halle Berry looked a lot like Dandridge, though she was prettier, newer, fresher, less abused. There was the point. That is not to say that Ms. Berrv has gone through life free, but the thing about Dandridge is when she did it, and how warm, real, wicked, and hurt she seemed. It’s the same difference as exists between Lena Home and Whitney Houston
Married Harold Nicholas, 1944 (divorced 1950).; married second, Jack Denison, June 22, 1959 (divorced 1963).