Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born on November 9,1922, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her parents (Cyril and Ruby Dandridge) had a troubled marriage, which eventually lead to them going their separate ways. Ruby met the new “love” of her life, a woman, later was much despised by Dottie. She was very domineering and abusive toward Ruby’s two children, especially Dottie. Early in their youth Ruby and her friend trained them for performing onstage. Between the ages 4-6 depending on who you ask, was about the time Dorothy and Vivian began performing publicly in Baptist churches, and they toured the country as the gospel singing act, the “Wonder Children “Around the 1930’s Dottie &Vivian joined a third girl (Etta Jones) in a song and dance act known as the “Dandridge Sisters” Hard times and the Great Depression forced them to move to Hollywood, where, at age16, “Dandridge Sisters”
Dorothy danced with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in “The Big Broadcast of 1936.” The same year she sang at legendary Cotton Club in Harlem, where she first met Harold Nicholas, her future husband. Harold was the younger member of the “Nicholas Brothers”. They danced with Gene Kelly in “The Pirate”. At 17she was performing in Benny Goodman’s musical, “Swinging the Dream”.
Dorothy Dandridge had a natural beauty, and an ideal figure to match! Dottie suffered from severe stage fright, but despite this, she played the best hotels in Miami and Las Vegas, although she couldn’t stay in them. One, in 1953, drained its swimming pool to keep her out of it. In 1954 Dandridge became the first black woman to appear on the cover of “Life” and received an Academy Award nomination for best actress for her role in “Carmen Jones.” But because the industry still could not see her potential as an serious actress (mainly because of her race), roles for her faded quickly, as well as her career. Eventually, she ended up working on cruise ships, series TV, and in the lounges of the hotels she had once headlined. Her second marriage, to Jack Denison (a club owner) ended with Dorothy being abused and exploited. Which resulted in further financial problems for her, and coupled with poor investments and tax problems hastened her decline. By 1962 she was bankrupt.
On the morning of September 8, 1965, Dorothy had an appointment to have a cast put on her foot. Earl Mills called her early but she asked that he reschedule the appointment for later so that she could sleep a few more hours. Mills tried calling again later in the morning but he could get no answer. He went to Dorothy’s apartment but he could not get in. He returned around 2 p.m. and finally forced his way in. He found Dorothy lying dead on the bathroom floor. She was nude except for a blue scarf around her head.
A few months earlier, Dorothy had given Earl a note, which read “In case of my death – to whomever discovers it – don’t remove anything I have on – scarf, gown or underwear. Cremate me right away. If I have anything, money, furniture, gives it to my mother Ruby Dandridge. She will know what to do. Dorothy Dandridge.”
Her death was first attributed to a blood clot caused by the fracture in her foot but an autopsy revealed that she had died of an overdose of Tofranil, theantidepressant that she was taking. Whether the overdose was accidental or intentional remains a mystery to this day.