“Blow on ’em, sugar.” Dandridge will forever be remembered for her not-so-demure request to a smitten Harry Belafonte in 1954’s Carmen Jones. When she swings those long, lean legs over Belafonte’s lap and asks for help drying her toenail polish, she seals her status as the black Marilyn Monroe.
Belafonte called Dandridge “the right person, in the right place, at the wrong time.” In an era when black actresses were relegated to playing maids and–if they were lucky–secretaries, Dandridge played what she was: a woman who could radiate passion just by lowering her eyelids. An elegant star with a surprisingly earthy laugh, she wowed critics in Porgy and Bess and became the first black nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in Carmen Jones.
Her heartstopping beauty onscreen concealed a stormy private life (a taboo affair with director Otto Preminger, a severely brain-damaged daughter and a husband who plunged her into bankruptcy). Ultimately, Dandridge suffered Monroe’s fate: felled by bad relationships, unhappiness and barbiturates at 42.
In Her Own Words: “If I were Betty Grable, I could capture the world.”