Dorothy Dandridge Carmen Jones Poster
I began Hollywood Yesterday in 2005 (13 years ago!) as a means of keeping the wonderful, glamorous stars of The Golden Age of Hollywood or “Old Hollywood” alive and shining bright. I’ve always loved old movies – even as a child, I preferred watching Shirley Temple and Abbott and Costello reruns to the newer movies and I’d rather have spent an afternoon watching Westerns with my dad than doing just about anything.
Over the years, my personal list of favorites has grown – but, make no mistake about it, my earliest favorites (Audrey, Barbara, James Stewart, Dean & Lewis, Abbott & Costello, Rita) are still among my absolute favorites.
The frustrating thing is, I can’t whittle my list down!
I see so many people say their favorite actress is Ginger Rogers or Ava Gardner and their favorite actor is Cary Grant or James Dean…. then when they ask my favorite actor/actress, I feel like telling them, “Well, sit down, this will take a hot minute!”
The thing is, when you love old movies and watch them with the vigor I do, you meet new favorites along the way. I only recently became really acquainted with Joan Crawford, for example. See, here’s the thing.. .to really appreciate a star, you have to have seen them in several roles and several movies. After my second Joan Crawford movie, she charged firmly into place among my favorites.
And looked downright elegant doing so!
The same thing happened years ago with one of my favorite actors, Glenn Ford. I’d seen him in The Violent men and, although I really liked him, I wasn’t ready to call him a favorite. Then I saw him in Gilda… and there he went – flying into place.
Rita? Heck, she’s always been there.
I recently had a particularly gorgeous actress/singer land firmly among the promised land – Dorothy Dandridge. I had, of course, heard of Dorothy (who hasn’t?!) and most certainly knew that she was a ridiculously beautiful lady. I, somehow, had never seen her in a single film she was in. Not one.
Now that I have, she has found a home among others who have a special place in my heart.
Dorothy Dandridge was born November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio. Her mother was an entertainer and her father was a minister. Her family moved to California, where they had hopes of more opportunities – perhaps even in film.
Sadly (hello, understatement), this was during a time in history when people of color didn’t receive the respect or kindness they deserved. As both an avid Old Movie fan and History Buff, I despise reading about racism or the struggles men and women went through and the nastiness they endured. However, it is a part of history, so it has to be faced… even if it’s with a tear-stained face.
What I try to concentrate on is the drive, determination, faith, and inner beauty that these men and women had that saw them through unspeakable ignorance. The fact that names like Dorothy Dandridge, Jackie Robinson, Butterfly McQueen, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Potier, Harriet Tubman (and so many more!) are fondly remembered when the vast majority of people who were ugly to them are long forgotten makes me smile -and I’m not even sorry if that sounds ugly.
In 1954, Dorothy appeared in the movie and role she is most associated with – Carmen Jones. She was so fantastic in this role, that even in a society still trying to find its humanity, she earned an Academy Award nomination. Unfortunately she lost out to Grace Kelly for her role in The Country Girl. You’ll get arguments from people on both sides of the fence on this one, but as someone who has seen both movies, and as someone who very much likes BOTH actresses, I have to say that I believe the Award should have gone to Dorothy. Grace Kelly was wonderful in The Country Girl but Dorothy was on a whole other level in Carmen Jones.
Yes, it was phenomenal to have been nominated but she could have (and in my opinion should have) won.
Ironically, in spite of this nomination, she didn’t get another role until Tamango (an Italian film) in 1958. She went on to make six more motion pictures, including standouts Island in the Sun in 1957 and Porgy and Bess in 1959.
She was only 42 when she died in 1965, with her last years being anything but glamorous. Many Dorothy Dandridge biographers and fans believed the actress suffered from depression and perhaps even bipolar disorder. To have overcome this AND the racism she faced all while looking like a smiling angel from above makes her one extra special lady.
I’ve been reading a great deal about Dorothy the past few weeks, and have placed an order for two biographies to dive in even deeper. I’ll let you in on something that troubles me. She is almost always compared to Marilyn Monroe… or mentioned in some way or fashion alongside Marilyn. I understand, to a certain extent, trying to compare beauties when they resemble one another. In fact, I’ve often been intrigued by the similarities between Vivien Leigh and Hedy Lamarr and between Claudette Colbert and Helen Hayes – when they were around the same age. I can even get trying to gauge an actress’ popularity by measuring it against another star’s.
However, Dorothy Dandridge CAN and SHOULD be remembered and celebrated all on her own.
I’m excited by the number of classic movie fans I see on Twitter and Pinterest – and I love the fact that so many are very young…. with many twenty-somethings loving the Golden Age of Hollywood. I hope to see all of us listing Dorothy Dandridge in her rightful place, among the other beautiful and talented stars of her time. I certainly plan to do my part to help make it happen.
After all, she fits perfectly among the list of other first-name basis ladies: Audrey, Rita, Barbara, Dorothy, Ava, Joan, Marilyn… just where she belongs – among the stars.