The poignant story of Dorothy Dandridge

Halle Berry in a 'very different' role.

Halle Berry in a 'very different' role.  

DIE ANOTHER Day has made her popular among Bangaloreans as Bond's, sorry, Pierce Brosnan's latest heroine. Her dusky looks are different from the typical blond bombshell of the 007-school.

Halle Berry now takes on a more challenging role as Dorothy Dandridge, in the movie of the same name. There is a poignant story behind the movie, made for HBO, and to be aired on Monday. In the 1940s and 1950s when the world of Hollywood was bowled over stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner, a talented young actress burst onto the silver screen and disappeared as quickly as a shooting star. In an age when skin colour mattered, Dorothy was handicapped by not being white. She was a victim of circumstances. She had the beauty and talent that opened doors but a skin colour that closed many.

Dorothy's career began with The Dandridge Sisters, a group formed with her sister, Vivian, and friend, Elta Jones. From performing at nightclubs, her ambitions made her want to have a career on her own. Starting with small parts in movies such as Four Shall Die, Lady from Louisiana and Sundown, she desperately wanted to be a film actress but adamantly refused to portray stereotypical black roles.

Her claim to fame came with her first starring role in Carmen Jones in which she became the first black woman to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1954. This also resulted in her being the first black woman on the cover of Life magazine. But she could not turn all these into other credible roles and had no choice but to return to nightclubs. When she did, it was as a smouldering and glamorous Dorothy.

The nightclub reviews generated the much-needed publicity to get her film work in Hollywood. But Dorothy was never able to achieve the stardom she sought because of the discrimination against people of her race in the 1940s through 1960s. She had to go through many a humiliation at a time when ``coloured persons'' were looked down upon.

Dorothy was a lonely woman who found solace in prescription anti-depressant pills. On the morning of September 8, 1965, her manager found Dorothy lying dead on a bathroom floor. Whether the overdose was accidental or intentional remains a mystery till this day.

For 24-year-old Halle Berry, stardom would have been easier. Talent matters more now than skin colour. All the same, she has managed to pack in a lot of emotion into her role and proved that she can emote as well as look good, being very different from the Bond girl.

By Satyamurty K

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