Dorothy Dandridge : A Biography

by Donald Bogle
Over the past decade or so, African American filmmakers and actors have begun to find their place in Hollywood. Directors and writers such as Spike Lee and John Singleton are in demand for feature films as well as independent releases; actors such as Denzel Washington, Will Smith, and Whitney Houston are box-office draws in films that, increasingly, are colorblind in their casting. The situation was quite different in the 1950s when Dorothy Dandridge, the first bona fide black movie star, broke the color barrier in Hollywood. Dorothy Dandridge by Donald Bogle is a fine chronicle of this talented woman's rise and tragic fall during the early years of the civil rights movement.

Dandridge got her big break in the 1954 all-black musical Carmen Jones, but she'd been working in show business since childhood. First as part of a singing trio, she made small musical appearances in white films such as A Day at the Races, but she mostly performed in clubs and cabarets. From nightclubs to bit parts in films, she eventually won the lead in Carmen Jones, for which she received an Oscar nomination for best actress--the first ever awarded an African American. A decade later, however, she was found dead in her apartment, the victim of a drug overdose at age 42. Bogle's biography of Dorothy Dandridge is thorough, sympathetic, and revealing, not only of Dandridge, but of the time and place in which she lived.


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