Dorothy Dandridge’s character of Carmen Jones represents a compelling Black woman: confident, determined to live life on her terms, and fearless in a man’s world.
In 1944, Dorothy Dandridge was considered by Twentieth Century Fox for the title role in Pinky, a film that told the story of a light-skinned Black woman who “passed” for white during her youth as a student in the North. Pinky faced the “dilemma” of living her true race when she returned home to the South. While Dorothy was indeed light skin, she had color to her & was not considered light enough to pass for white. Twentieth Century Fox was worried about how the public would react to Dorothy, a then unknown Black actress. The script called for the character of Pinky to have a romance with a white actor. Had Dorothy been cast in the role, the studio would have had problems with the film industry’s Production Code Administration because miscegenation (racial mixing) was strictly prohibited. Jeanne Crain, a white actress, was ultimately cast in the role.
"For this woman’s memory to be diminished in what can be a vile industry, she [Dorothy Dandridge] deserved better. She was such a lady. Not like some others. She was just first class. I just hated seeing it happen to her.” - actress Nichelle Nichols
Dorothy Dandridge seemingly at peace.
"It makes me ill to think of what happened. She [Dorothy Dandridge] didn’t deserve to have those things happen to her. She was too nice, too sweet, too naive. She was probably very proud. You didn’t think of her as anything but a lovely, sweet, beautiful woman who has a tragic life. It became tragic because of the failure of her career, which never should have happened. She let people step over her. In this business you have to be tough. No one was around to help. I think what ruined her was Jack." - Maria Cole, wife of Nat King Cole
In 1956, Dorothy Dandridge learned of plans to film Kings Go Forth, a story of two white American soldiers in love with “a half-Negro girl” in Europe during WWII. Dorothy had her manager, Earl Mills, contact the producer, Frank Ross, to ask that she be considered for the role.
Frank Ross replied with “In Kings Go Forth it would be impossible to use a Negro in the role of Monique, because at the beginning of the picture we must not know that she is a Negro. I am a great admirer of Dorothy Dandridge. She is one of the finest natural actresses I have ever seen. Maybe some day I will have a picture [film] for her. I would like to.”
Unfortunately, Dorothy heard these type of comments before. They all admired her, but they rarely have her any work. Kings Go Forth went on to be filmed with Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood as the “half-Negro girl.”
Dorothy Dandridge as Gianna in the 1960 film, Malaga.
A Hollywood journalist wrote: “Forget Carmen Jones! This is a master actress giving everything she has to a role, this is Dorothy Dandridge’s greatest performance on film, bar none. Her disillusioned, world-weary, but still hopeful Gianna is the essence of film noir.”
Dorothy Dandridge, Sweet ‘N Hot (March 1944).
Young Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge and The King and I
"There are not too many opportunities for you in films. You let these opportunities go by and all of a sudden there will be another beautiful Black woman, singer-actress who comes down the pike and you’re passé. You’ve got to take every opportunity. Do it. You need it. You have to have it. You have to have that credit. You have to have that exposure. There’s no limit to what you can play. Right now you’re on the top of the heap. You turn this down and nothing is going to be coming for you in the next two years. You’ve got to keep Dorothy Dandridge above the title." Dorothy Dandridge’s publicist Orin Borsten plead for her to accept the role of Tuptim.
Otto Preminger pressured Dottie not to take the role, because he saw her as a leading lady in the same league as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Otto, rightfully felt that Dottie should only play leading roles. After all, Carmen Jones was a huge success and she had just made history by becoming the first black woman nominated for an Academy Award in a Leading Role.
Dorothy ultimately listened to Otto and turned down the role. Many felt that this decision is what caused her career to falter. What do you think? Should Dorothy have taken the role? Or was Otto right? Was the role of Tuptim a step down for someone who had just received a historic Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards?
Dorothy Dandridge was viewed as one of Black Hollywood’s greatest hope for the future. Dottie, along with Sammy Davis Jr and Nat “King” Cole, helped create a far more integrated movie capital — not only at the studios, but also in the way that black stars lived and capitalized.