I wrote a blog piece on actress Lana Turner that I'll post later. It occurred to me that, had it not been for the Hollywood racial restrictions and inequality of the time, Dorothy Dandridge could have been just as juicy in some parts that Lana did. After her historic Oscar nomination for Carmen Jones, she still had the same problems getting work. Why? Because there weren't lead roles in major Hollywood films for black actresses back then. 20th Century Fox released Carmen Jones (1954) and, reportedly, wanted her to follow that with a supporting role as an Asian slave in The King and I (1956). The role eventually went to future Oscar-winner Rita Moreno. Dandridge starred in the film version of Porgy and Bess, her other musical drama also directed by Otto Preminger. At that time in Hollywood, she wasn't permitted the interracial acting freedom that Whitney Huston had with Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard or Beyoncé had in the comedies Austin Powers: Goldmember and Steve Martin's 2006 remake of The Pink Panther. Halle Berry, who played Dorothy Dandridge in a biopic for HBO and is the first black woman to win the Best Actress Academy Award, had the kind of film opportunities that Dandridge probably dreamed of having. Dandridge died young and broke in West Hollywood. Racism wasted a major talent. She never had the script opportunities that her buddies Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe did. Lena Horne called Dandridge "our Marilyn Monroe." Horne, even though she got groundbreaking glamour treatment onscreen in musical numbers during her MGM years of the 1940s, understood Dandridge's frustration. Horne was not allowed to act with the white performers (and friends) who were also MGM musical stars. Her numbers were separate. She could not interact and share screen time with Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. She certainly couldn't take a short dip in the MGM pool with Esther Williams. Those were racial restrictions from studio hierarchy.
Dandridge was the first black American female to grace the cover of Life magazine.
Dorothy Dandridge could've rocked that Ziegfeld Girl role too.
Hattie McDaniel made Oscar history as the first black actor to be nominated for an Oscar. She won Best Supporting Actress for 1939's Gone With The Wind. Look at her career afterwards. You wouldn't know that she'd won a historic Academy Award by her billing in opening credits. She went on to play more maids. She was a versatile actress whose talent was under-utilized. John Huston's In This Our Life and the World War 2 drama Since You Went Away gave her a chance to do something different in modern-day domestic roles. The variety show comedy, Thank Your Lucky Stars, was wartime entertainment packed with musical numbers showcasing stars on the Warner Bros. lot in the early 1940s. Top numbers featured Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Hattie McDaniel and Hattie McDaniel co-star, Olivia de Havilland. Recording and Broadway star Ethel Waters recreated her hit Cabin in the Sky Broadway role in the MGM movie version. She introduced a new song written for the film. "Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe" was an Oscar nominee for Best Song. After that 1943 hit MGM musical, the first film directed by Vincente Minnelli, Hollywood didn't have another role for Ethel Waters until 1949. For her dramatic performance as the maid grandmother in the race drama Pinky, Ethel Waters became the second black person nominated for an Academy Award. She was in the Best Supporting Actress category. The third black performer nominated was Dorothy Dandridge. After her nomination for Best Actress of 1954, she didn't have a film until 1957's Island in the Sun. Set in the Caribbean and involving modern-day race relations, it's an ensemble piece. Joan Fontaine, James Mason and Joan Collins starred. Dandridge was reunited with Harry Belafonte as a handsome young Caribbean doctor.
Watch for my blog piece on Lana Turner in The Bad and The Beautiful.