Parallel Lives: Marilyn and Dorothy Dandridge

In Carmen Jones (1954), the temptress played by Dorothy Dandridge stirs memories of Marilyn’s sizzling performance in Niagara (1953.) In fact, Dorothy’s life drew striking parallels to Marilyn’s – culminating in her own fatal overdose in 1965, aged just 42.

An article published in US magazine Closer this week states that the two women met at the Actors’ Studio. Actually, they met at the Actors’ Lab in Hollywood in 1947 (long before Marilyn moved to New York), and were neighbours at the Hilldale Avenue apartments in 1952. The musician and arranger Phil Moore, who coached Marilyn as a vocalist, was also Dorothy’s partner, onstage and off, for several years.

Dorothy’s romance with filmmaker Otto Preminger started while he was directing Marilyn in River of No Return – although ultimately, both women would find him too controlling. Dorothy received an Oscar nomination for Carmen Jones, helmed by Preminger at Marilyn’s home studio, 20th Century Fox. In 1960 she earned a Golden Globe nomination for her second Preminger movie, Porgy and Bess – but on that occasion, Marilyn won for Some Like It Hot.

Dorothy Dandridge visits Otto Preminger and Marilyn on the River of No Return set, 1953

While Marilyn experienced sexism during her career, Dorothy also endured racial discrimination – including salacious rumours printed in Confidential magazine which led to a successful libel suit on her part. She never quite achieved the heights that once seemed inevitable, given her dazzling beauty and ‘triple threat’ talents – and her personal life was marred by tragedy.

“America was not geared to make me into a Liz Taylor, a Monroe, a Gardner,” Dorothy wrote in her memoir. Or, as she told her sister-in-law the night before her death, “If I looked like Betty Grable, I could capture the world.”