After finding success in her singing career, Dorothy Dandridge was later discovered by a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio agent. In 1953, she won her first starring role in Bright Road, playing an idealistic teacher opposite Harry Belafonte. Her next role in the 1954 musical Carmen Jones launched her into stardom. A worldwide success, the role earned her positive reviews, made her the first African-American actress nominated for an Oscar leading role, the first black woman featured on the cover of LIFE magazine, and one of Hollywood’s first African-American sex symbols. In 1955, she became the first black performer to headline at the Empire Room inside New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. It was her success that led to the hotel booking other black performers, paving the way for her community.
London, 1956. (Evening Standard)
Unfortunately, Dandridge found it difficult to replicate her success with Carmen Jones, as her opportunities were considerably limited because of her race. “If I were Betty Grable, I could capture the world,” said Dandridge, according to The New York Times. The late years of the decade found her appearing in four films: Island in the Sun (1957), The Decks Ran Red (1958), The Tamango (1958), and Porgy and Bess (1959); the last movie earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
Take a look back at the talented actress and singer in the 1950s:
1951. (Ed Clark)
‘Tarzan’s Peril,’ 1951. (Ed Clark)
Walking down the stairs in London night club, 1951. (Larry Burrows)
Singing in London night club, 1951. (Larry Burrows)