Dorothy Dandridge

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Dorothy Dandridge Pencil Portrait
To see a larger preview, please click the image.

Shopping Basket

The quality of the prints are at a much higher level compared to the image shown on the left.


A3 Pencil Print-Price £45.00-Purchase

A4 Pencil Print-Price £30.00-Purchase

*Limited edition run of 250 prints only*

All Pencil Prints are printed on the finest Bockingford Somerset Velvet 255 gsm paper.

P&P is not included in the above prices.


Blessed with flawless, radiant “cafe au lait” skin, Dorothy Dandridge could light up any room with her reverberating, confident laugh and fierce, dazzling eyes. But being a black actress in the 1950s meant playing savages, slaves, and mamies, essentially debasing roles that Dandridge refused on principle. In the films where she did get to play a a non-servant, non-exotic, non-savage, she was not allowed to do more than kiss, as the idea of a black woman in love was altogether too dangerous for the screen. “If I were white,” Dandridge explained, “I would capture the world.”

The first African – American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Carmen (1954), her life was punctuated by professional highs and emotional lows. She died in 1965 under mysterious circumstances at the age of 42, yet in recent times stars like Halle Berry, Cicely Tyson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine, Tasha Smith, and Angela Bassett have all acknowledged Dandridge’s contributions to the role of Black Americans in film.

She suffered so that others wouldn’t have to. Yet fifty years after her death, when one would hope that all vestiges of discrimination, prejudice, and sexual stereotyping would have dissipated, they’re still alive and well even if we kid ourselves otherwise. She must be turning in her grave.

Born in Cleveland in November 1922, Dandridge began singing and dancing as a child. Her mother, Ruby Dandridge, a strong, domineering woman who would later carve out her own career as a comedienne and supporting actress in movies and television, pressed Dorothy and her older sister, Vivian, onto the stage. They started performing professionally as the Wonder Children; after the family moved to Los Angeles in 1929, another child singer, Etta Jones, joined them to form the Dandridge Sisters trio.

Dandridge made her film debut with the trio, appearing in musical sequences in films like A Day at the Races (1937) with the Marx Brothers. The trio also played the Cotton Club in New York, completed a European tour, and traveled across the country with Jimmie Lunceford’s big band. By the age of 17, Dandridge was a seasoned trouper who had appeared on stage and in films with many of the era’s top performers. She had also blossomed into a stunningly attractive woman, who clearly had star potential. Sadly, she would be emotionally troubled throughout her life by her childhood experiences.

The following extract from Donald Bogle’s biography of Dorothy, highlights the discord in her parents’ marriage; her mother Ruby’s constant restlessness and zest for adventure, their eventual divorce and custody battle for their daughters.

Dandridge was the first African-American to perform in the Empire Room of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1951 and in the same year, she also broke all attendance records at the Mocambo in Hollywood. Despite her success, she detested the rootless existence synonymous with touring, and remained bedevilled with insecurities about her appearance and ability. The ever present spectre of racism at her nightclub performances hardly helped matters. Like Sammy Davis Jnr and other contemporaries, she would remain barred from staying overnight in hotels where she was performing.

Anxious to leave the nightclub circuit and resume her acting career, she would play a supporting role as an African princess in the 1951 movie ‘Tarzan’s Peril’ and two years later, garnered excellent reviews for her complex portrayal of a sympathetic teacher in ‘Bright Road,’ a radical departure from the usual erotic persona demanded of her, and although the movie failed at the box office, it showed clearly that she had talent as an actress.

Dorothy’s appearance in the all-black production of ‘Carmen Jones’ proved to be her springboard to true national fame. Her superb performance won her a nomination for the Best Actress Academy Award, the first African-American to be nominated in the Best Actress category and only the third to be nominated in any category (after Hattie McDaniel and Ethel Waters.) Although she lost out to Grace Kelly in ‘The Country Girl’ – the role would bring her to the notice of the whole world. During the filming of ‘Carmen,’ Dorothy began an affair with the director, Otto Preminger, a liaison that would last several years, until it became apparent that the Austrian-American would not leave his wife.

Recommended viewing

Bright Road (1953)

Carmen (1954)

Island in the sun (1957)

The decks ran red (1958)

Porgy & Bess (1959)

Moment of Danger (aka 'Malaga') 1960

Recommended reading

Dorothy Dandridge - A biography (Donald Bogle) 1997

Bogle’s first book, “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks in Films,” was published in 1973. In it, he identified five basic stereotypical film roles available to African-American actors and actresses: the servile, avuncular “tom”; the simple-minded and cowardly “coon”; the tragic, and usually female, mulatto; the fat, dark-skinned “mammy”; and the irrational, hypersexual male “buck”. In the second edition of the book, Bogle identified a sixth stereotype: the sidekick, who is usually asexual. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks was awarded the 1973 Theatre Library Association Award.

“Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America’s Black Female Superstars” was published in 1980. It was the basis of a four-hour PBS documentary that aired in 1986. Bogle published his third book, “Blacks in American Film and Television: An Illustrated Encyclopedia,” in 1988.

Bogle’s next book, a biography of actress Dorothy Dandridge, caused a sensation before its 1997 publication. It sparked renewed interest in Dandridge’s life, and several Black performers raced to make a film about Dandridge’s life. the late Whitney Houston acquired the rights to produce a movie based on Bogle’s biography, but Halle Berry brought ‘Introducing Dorothy Dandridge’ to fruition.

I love the title to his first published work. In this age of over-sensitive political correctness, how should I describe Mr Bogle? – a black man? A man of slightly darker skin tone persuasion than myself? A man of colour? – yes, that last description appears acceptable to the millenium generation of do-gooders, and least likely to land me in hot water. But then again, I don’t have to defend myself to anyone over the ‘black question,’ at least to those who have taken the time to read some of my website commentaries.