Dorothy Jean Dandridge had an exciting on-screen career in 1950s Hollywood. She had begun as one of the three-person singing group The Dandridge Sisters – which included her sister Vivian – and wowed her way into movies thanks to a silky voice, stunning looks, and the audacity of talent.
But it can be argued that Dandridge and The Dandridge Sisters were very much the creation of her mother Ruby Dandridge, also an actress from the 1900s. The mother Dandridge put together the singing group and urged her daughter to give acting a chance.
These days, Hollywood is often credited with being at the forefront of social change and progress, although that assertion can adequately be refuted. The showbiz industry is very much a consequence of what is considered acceptable politics at any given time. However, whatever Hollywood was at Dandridge’s time is comparably worse than what Hollywood is now.
For her first four films, Dandridge was uncredited, partly due to the minor role she played and mostly due to her skin color. It was not until her role in the 1940 film Four Shall Die that Dandridge was credited. She was 18-years-old at the time but she was a minor celebrity of a sort, due to shows played by The Dandridge Sisters. It also turned out that although she was uncredited in the films, she had not gone unnoticed by the theater-going public.
It also did turn out that fame was not nearly enough to spare Dandridge the ugliness of her America. As she made it into the 1950s even as a more appreciated actress, Dandridge was reportedly invited to Las Vegas to perform. She had not been the first. Trailblazers including Nat King Cole and Lena Horne were all recipients of such invitations which were considered an honor and a chance for a good payday.
But all the Black entertainers who went to Las Vegas at the time also realized that Sin City was not accepting of certain sins, including giving equal treatment to white and Black people. Las Vegas segregated or simply kept out Black people from many establishments even if said Black people were the headline acts on nights. You could fill a room with thousands of paying patrons at a hotel and still not be allowed to eat at that hotel’s dining area.
When Dandridge stayed at one of those casino hotels where she was billed to perform, she was told the swimming pool was out of bounds for Black guests. Dandridge is said to have been enraged by the hotel’s rules so much so that she actually moved to break them, somewhat.
She showed up at the pool in her bathing suit as the all-white swimming crowd gazed. Then Dandridge just stuck her toe into the water. The hotel’s management then proceeded to drain all of the water from the pool as a result of Dandrige’s rebellious toe-dipping.
After she died allegedly penniless and suspiciously of suicide, a few biopics have been made about Dandridge. Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999) which starred Halle Berry as the famed actress told the story of drained pool as melodramatically as it happened.
Berry, as Dandridge, is seen walking past the pool at night. She then sees Black workers busily scrubbing away her alleged contamination.