Dorothy Dandridge

Origin: Greek
Gender: Female
Meaning: "Gift of God"
Pronunciation: DOR-eh-thee, DOR-thee
Other Forms: Dorothea, Dorthe, Dorete, Dora

One of my favorite vintage names, Dorothy has a sweet simplicity that can't be beat. The English form of Dorothea, which is in itself a feminine form of the Greek Dorotheos. It means "Gift of God". Dorothy has been on and off the US charts since it first came about in 1880, and in 2018 ranked #586, making it another one of those delicious sweet spot names.

Everyone's first thought when they hear Dorothy is of Dorothy Gale, the heroine of L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz", played by Judy Garland in the 1939 film. But there are many other namesakes, from Nobel Prize Winner Dorothy Hodgkin, who developed protein crystallography, also known as X-ray crystallography, or XRC, to a plethora of Olympic medalists. A more recent bearer is actress Bel Powley, although it's only a middle - Isobel Dorothy Powley.

"The Wizard of Oz" by W.W. Denslow
The beautiful Dorothy Dandridge was not only an actress but a singer and dancer, and eventually the first Black actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. Born in 1922 to actress Ruby Dandridge and Cyril Dandridge, a cabinetmaker and Baptist minister, she soon got the taste for entertainment. Her mother created "The Wonder Children", the title Dorothy and her sister Vivian went under for their dance routines. Eventually they became so popular that they were constantly touring and rarely going to school. They re-branded as "The Dandridge Sisters" as they got older, and performed at nightclubs like The Cotton Club and the Apollo Theatre.

She snagged a few small roles in movies, but her first substantial role didn't come until 1951 when she played Queen Melmendi in "Tarzan's Peril". Dorothy received a lot of attention for her "provocative clothing", and the film was criticized for its "blunt sexuality". Her big break came when 20th Century Fox started a nationwide search for talent for their adaption of the all-Black musical "Carmen Jones".
Writer and Director Otto Preminger had seen Dorothy in "Bright Road", where she played a plain and demure schoolteacher, and didn't feel she was the right choice for the role. Dorothy, determined to get the role, created a look with the help of Max Factor make-up artists that she hoped would help her win him over. She burst into Preminger's office, and he gave her the role. They would soon become lovers.

She became one of the first Black actresses to become successful in Hollywood, plus one of the first Black sex symbols. Sadly, Dandridge would only live to 42. Her cause of death was debated - one coroner declaring it an accidental overdose of the anti-depressant imipramine, and another a fat embolism from a fracture in her right foot.


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