Dorothy Dandridge

  1. Patricia Medina, The Foxes of Harrow, 1946.    Black author Frank Yerby said of any film version: “I won’t stand to see any of the colored characters debased. I painted them as they were – human beings with human qualities – and… they must remain that way.” They did by the simpld expedient of Fox cutting ’em all out  – including Dorothy Dandridge, originlly set for Desiree, no longer a quadron when played  by Medina.
  2. Jeanne Crain, Pinky, 1948.     The year is important… Almost makes what follows undestandable. Almost… Cid Ricketts Sumner’s book was about a black nurse passing for white and falling for a white doctor. Perfect for Dorothy Dandridge who auditioned or Lena Horne who pushed hard for the rôle. No, no, said the Fox suits, the great US public would not stand (or pay) for inter-racial love scenes. So they went with a white actress passing for a black nurse passing for white… Stupido! Director Elia Kazan said Crain was  “a good soul, a pretty girl, obedient, gentle, yielding and as, I suspected, catechism schooled. She defined the word ‘ingenue,’ yet had four children, was to have two more – conceived I wasn’t sure how for she gave the impression of being forever 15 and intact… There were days when I longed for a bitch!”
  3. Olga James, Carmen Jones, 1953.   “Too sweet, too regal,” snapped director Otto Preminger about his first meeting with Dandridge – hiding out in a chaste dress, fit for a queen. “Come back when you’ve learned Cindy Lou’as part,” She went back. But in a black wig, low-cut blouse, slit skirt, high heels and just poleaxed Otto. “My God! You are really Carmen.” And he calmed her considerable nerves – about winning a rare title role for a black woman – the only way he knew how. He became her lover. Longterm.
  4. Rita Moreno, The Lieutenant Wore Skirts, 1955.      “Our Marilyn Monroe” is how Lena Horne called Dandridge.  And Fox didn’t know what to do with either of them. Considering her Oscar nomination for Carmen Jones, this role was insignificant – rather a  parody of Marilyn in The Seven Year Itch. Dorothy didn’t do parody.  which was another reason she turned the part down. Not making these two films started the slow decline of Dandridge’s film career.
  5. Rita Moreno, The King And I, 1956.      What else could  follow her smash as Carmen Jones – making her the first black nominated for a Best Actress Oscar?  Fox boss Darryl Zanuck offered her The King’s gift from Burma, young Tuptim,  in love with another. Dandridge spurned the support role, on the say-so (“only play star roles”) of her lover, Otto Preminger  – who directed Carmen and,  five years later, after their affair, Porgy and  Bess. In the late 90s, when  Halle Berry shopped around the majors to back her Dandridge bio, “no one knew who  she was.”
  6. Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra, 1962.

  7. Elsa Martinelli, La fabuleuse aventure de Marco Polo (US: Marco The Magnificent), Italy-France-Yugoslavia-Afghanistan-Egypt, 1965.
    Shooting began in Belgrade’s Avala Studio on January 2, 1962. The French premiere would be in August 1965… after one helluva lot of angst, change of hero, director,  cast  and much underwear – for what Paris producer Raoul Levy had (b)rashly promised as a spectacle across Asia to match Ben-Huror Spartacus, with Delon leading a French cast – apart from Dorothy Dandridge add Mel Ferrer. Control was lost – so was money. “I never knew,” said Levy, “that elephants need 250 kilos of hay per day. For our 200 elephants that meant 50 tons!!!” He cut his losses stopped the shoot, made new deals and started all over with a German Marco and a rather more international cast: Elsa Martinelli (replacing Dandridge), Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif and (inevitably) Orson Welles.   No better… In neither version did Levy have a scriptReported Welles: “We made it up as we went along.”
  8. Juanita Moore. The Singing Nun, 1965.   Three of Hollywood’s then rare black female stars – Dandridge, Pearl Bailey and Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols – were in the wimple mix for Sister Mary in the typically Hollywood-mawkish version of the life ovf the Belgian nun-cum-pop star. Just not about her death – suicide while the balance of her life was disturbed.
  9. Diana Ross, Lady Sings The Blues,1972.      Alas, Dorothy died before her Billie Holiday bio-pic began. Probably to her great surprise, Dorothy became the subject of a biopic, herself: Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, 1999, with her greatest fan, Halle Berry, who became, in 2002, the first black Best Actress Oscar-winner.


 Birth year: 1923Death year: 1965Other name: Casting Calls:  9