In 1955, Dorothy Dandridge was nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in “Carmen Jones”. Her nomination marked the first time an African-American woman had been considered for the prized recognition. Ten years later she was gone, having died of an accidental overdose of prescription pills on September 8, 1965. She was forty-two years old. Her rise and fall in Hollywood is one of the most tragic stories of the era and she joins the ranks of other fallen female greats such as Billie Holiday and Marilyn Monroe. She left behind a legacy that is undeniable and she broke down barriers that other African-American female stars faced prior to her rise to stardom. But for all of her success on the silver screen, Dandridge’s personal life as shown here in this definitive biography by Donald Bogle, shows a woman who struggled throughout her life with her childhood, motherhood, fame, success and love. Her story is largely forgotten but at one point in America history she was one of Hollywood’s biggest actresses.
Today she is rarely mentioned and her name has faded into history. Often eclipsed by the memories of Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll and the late Holiday, she reached heights that few of her contemporaries could only dream of. The pictures in the book and the descriptions given by those who knew her show prove that she truly was one of the most gorgeous women that the film industry had ever seen. But hidden from the public light was the reality that an incredibly gifted artist was struggling with demons, some of which plague her up until her death. Bogle did an exceptional job of capturing the essence of her life and remains biased throughout the book. He is neither for against her but examines her life in its entirety. Through his engaging writing style, he transports us back into time to an era where films featuring African-Americans and other minorities were considered to be “race films”. A thoroughly segregated Hollywood in conjunction with prevailing attitudes at the time about race delegated African-American stars to stereotypical roles that gave them no recognition or opportunities to perfect their craft. They were forced to suffer indignation on a recurrent basis and frequently barred from socializing in the very places in which they had just performed. The plight of the African-American film and musical star during the era of Jim Crow policies cast the United States is a dreadful light in the eyes of the world. Nonetheless it would be many years before the pioneering efforts of Dandridge and other stars paid off. Today it is unfathomable to think that a performer cannot stay in the hotel in which they had just performed because of their skin color. But for her and others that was the standard method of procedure. The Last Frontier Hotel’s draining of its swimming pool to prevent Dandridge from swimming in it, is just one example of the extremes taken to keep segregation alive and heavily enforced. But as her star rose and she gained famed, she began to possess the power to break down those barriers and she did so unapologetically.
She remain firmly committed to the cause of civil rights her whole life and despite the love she displayed for others, it was an area in which she struggled throughout her life. And as we see in the book, he attempts at domestic happiness and motherhood are nothing short of heartbreaking. Her failings and insecurities are explored in the book and the details about her childhood will shock many readers who are new to her story. But the incidents, both positive and negative, are necessary in understanding exactly who Dorothy Jean Dandridge really was. Bogle conducted extensive discussions with those who knew her including her late sister Vivian, friend Geri Branton and other Hollywood names. Branton provides the bulk of the crucial parts of Dandridge’s life and stands out in the book as her closest supporter.
The book is an incredible account of the life of a fallen legend. Her life was complex and cursed with a tragic fate. But for those looking to learn the true story of Dorothy Dandridge, this is the place to begin. So come along with Bogle and explore the life of one of Black America’s forgotten icons whose life was filled with fame, success, destitution, death and encounters with some of the biggest names in the 20th century film industry including, Otto Preminger, Phil Moore, Samuel Goldwyn, Peter Lawford, Harry Belafonte and the legendary Sammy Davis, Jr. She is long gone but for a generation of older Americans, she lives on as the immortal Carmen Jones. And for the younger generation of Americans, this is a place to learn about woman who transcended racial and gender lines to become a mythical figure in her own right.