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The 2 Roles That Defined Dorothy Dandridge's Career

Image: The 2 Roles That Defined Dorothy Dandridge's Career
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By    |   Wednesday, 13 May 2015 01:13 PM

Despite an abundance of talent and good looks, Dorothy Dandridge's film successes were few and far between. Dandridge was alive during a racially-divided time in the country, and in the 1950s, directors had a hard time placing her in roles deemed "suitable" for her talents. But when she did shine, her star was bright.

Here are the two roles that defined Dandridge's career on the big screen:

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1. Carmen Jones, "Carmen Jones" (1954)

Dandridge was the lead in "Carmen Jones" (1954), a dramatic musical film adaptation of Bizet's opera "Carmen." The all-black production put Dandridge at the height of stardom in her role as Carmen Jones.

In the film, she played a parachute maker during wartime that juggles her love interests. Not only could Dandridge act but also her singing ability was in a league of its own.

The 50s pinup had sultry looks and a flirty style and soon made history for her work. According to Biography, Dandridge was the first African-American to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She lost the award to Grace Kelly, but still went down in the books as a superstar for her role in the film.

2. Bess, "Porgy and Bess" (1959)

Dandridge's only other role of great success was in "Porgy and Bess," where she played opposite of Sidney Poitier and alongside Sammy Davis, Jr. Dandridge plays a troubled woman, "Bess" who Poitier's character "Porgy" falls in love with.

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The film, based on a book from the turn of the century, didn't receive rave reviews because of its racist context. It originally was slated for an all-white cast with their faces painted black, but that idea was tossed as it stirred controversy.

Harold Cruse, an African American social historian, said, "It portrays the seamiest side of Negro life – presumably the image of black people that white audiences want to see."

Dandridge did continue to act and sing in Hollywood in lesser-known roles in films such as the racially and sexually charged dramas "Island in the Sun" (1957) and "Tamango"(1959), in which she plays the mistress of the captain of a slave ship; and "Malaga" (1960).

By 1963, Dandridge's brief career had folded and she was left virtually penniless.

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Despite an abundance of talent and good looks, Dorothy Dandridge's film successes were few and far between. Dandridge was alive during a racially-divided time in the country, and in the 1950s, directors had a hard time placing her in roles deemed "suitable" for her talents.
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2015-13-13
Wednesday, 13 May 2015 01:13 PM
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