Dorothy Dandridge: A Look Back at Her Tragic Life and Career

Herbie J Pilato

According to, "Dorothy Dandridge was one of Hollywood’s first black sex symbols and the first black actress to be nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars."

As documented on, "Around 1930, Dandridge moved to Los Angeles, California, with her family. A few years later she found success with her new musical group, the Dandridge Sisters, which included sister Vivian and their friend Etta Jones. The group landed gigs at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem and performed with top acts such as the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra and Cab Calloway. As an African American singer, Dandridge confronted early on the segregation and racism of the entertainment industry. She may have been allowed on stage, but in some venues, she couldn't eat in the restaurant or use certain facilities because of the color of her skin."

"As a teenager," continues to note, "...Dandridge began earning small roles in a number of films. She and her sister appeared in the Marx Brothers' classic A Day at the Races (1937), as well as Going Places (1938), with Louis Armstrong. On her own, she danced with Harold Nicholas of the dancing Nicholas Brothers in the 1941 Sonja Henie musical Sun Valley Serenade. The duo's tap-dancing routine was cut from the version of the film shown in the South.

"Dandridge married Harold Nicholas in 1942, but their union proved to be anything but a happy one. Nicholas reportedly liked to chase other women, and Dandridge virtually retired from performing during this time. Adding to the strain, after Dandridge gave birth to daughter Harolyn in 1943, they discovered that the girl had brain damage. Seeking to find a cure, Dandridge had Harolyn receive expensive private care for many years."

"Unfortunately," chronicles, "...her love life was much less illustrious; in 1959, she married a club owner named Jack Denison. He turned out to be abusive, including financially abusive, as he mismanaged her finances into bankruptcy. He then had the audacity to divorce Dandridge in 1963. This story doesn’t have a happy ending: unable to get more acting roles, Dandridge died penniless from an apparent drug overdose in 1965 at the age of just 42."

To read more about Dorothy Dandridge, click here.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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