Black History Month: Dorothy and Marilyn

I always stare at the life size picture of Marilyn Monroe on my wall.

As a little girl, I thought Marilyn Monroe was a dream.

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My mother enjoyed watching black and white movies and sometimes she would watch movies starring Marilyn Monroe.

She was gorgeous.

She was sassy.

She was sexy.

A BOMBSHELL.

When I was around 8, my mother bought a Marilyn Monroe autobiography. I read the grown up book from the beginning to the end. Thickest book ever. I was obsessed. I read it twice. EVERY YEAR.

I began quoting her. My all time favorite quotes are:

  • “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”
  • “I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
  • “If you can make a girl laugh, you can make her do anything.”

Some years ago, my husband purchased a tall, life size picture of Marilyn Monroe. He knew I admired Marilyn Monroe and knew that Id fall totally in love with this piece of art. Well, Hubby knew me well. As soon as I saw the picture, I was in awe. It was beautiful. I hung it right where I needed inspiration from day to day. In my bathroom.

Go Marilyn! Go Marilyn!

Then.

Halle Berry decides to star in a new movie.

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.

Dorothy Dandridge 1964 © 1978 Wallace Seawell
Simply gorgeous…

My world flipped upside down.

Dorothy Dandridge.

Dorothy Dandridge?

Dorothy Dandridge!

I was obsessed with this beauty.

You mean to tell me, there existed a black version of Marilyn Monroe, and no one ever told me!

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Should I recreate this for Halloween?

Who was she?

How come she was never mentioned?

Where were her movies?

Where was her autobiography?

I started my research.

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This black woman was GORGEOUS.

This black woman was SASSY.

This black woman was SEXY.

This black woman was a BOMBSHELL.

This black woman was BLACK.

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Dorothy Dandridge was an amazing actress, singer and dancer who became a national and international star, and the first African American female actor nominated for both an Academy Award for best actress in Carmen Jones and later a Golden Globe for her performance in Porgy and Bess.

She lived in an era where black actresses and actors were denied equal footing with leading white actresses and actors, limiting their ability to demonstrate the full dimensions of their acting skills.

This knowledge answered a lot of my questions surrounding her.

I searched for Dorothy Dandridge quotes to hold onto and cheerlessly her most famous quotes were:

  • “Prejudice is such a waste. It makes you logy and half-alive. It gives you nothing. It takes away.”
  • “If I were white I could capture the world.”
  • “I can’t play a slave.”

I became disheartened by the minute.

I watched her movies. I couldn’t believe how beautiful she was.

Breathtaking.

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I love this picture. It’s as if Dorothy signed it especially for me.

She played her roles with such vigor. I was amazed. Impressed.

This beautiful soul just wanted the same experiences that Marilyn Monroe was afforded.

I felt guilty.

Staring at the life size picture of Marilyn Monroe on the wall.

I took the picture down.

I felt it was disrespectful to Dorothy to have Marilyn plastered on my wall.

How dare I put this white woman on a pedestal while my black sista struggled for the same right.

Although I loved Marilyn, I could no longer respect her. I could only have respect for my queen Dorothy.

They both couldn’t coexist in my life, right?

I decided to dig deeper.

I realized that I admired both of these women.

I also realized the similarities in the two.

As noted in the Negroland Blog:

  • Both women were world-famous actresses and sex symbols of the 1950s, known widely for their looks and described as some of the most beautiful women of their time.
  • Both had similar styles– an iconic short wavy hair and red lipstick. Both often had acting roles as bombshells, although some roles may have been stereotypical in nature (Ex. The “Jezebel” in Dandridge’s case or the “dumb blonde” in Monroe’s).
  • One of the more eerie similarities is that both had tragic love lives, never able to have the loving family and husband they wanted.
  • Both died of drug overdose in their mid-30s to early 40s in their Californian homes.
  • With similar popularity and status and almost equal duration of their careers, one would think their legacies and influence should be comparable to each other.

My research also revealed that Dorothy and Marilyn were actually friends.

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This information is never mentioned in any Marilyn Monroe autobiographies or articles.

Dorothy would call Marilyn and they would talk for hours about their careers, problems with men and racism in Hollywood. Marilyn never tried to hide her friendship with Dorothy. It was just unpopular for whites to have black friends during segregation that white media outlets refused to report on their friendship, even if they were peers in the same field.

Interesting right?

Then the light bulb appeared.

Dr. Martin Luther King famously said:

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brother hood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty

With a mere picture and revelation.

I created a divide.

That easily.

Dorothy Dandridge and Marilyn Monroe.

Both  GORGEOUS.

Both SASSY.

Both SEXY.

Both BOMBSHELLS.

My Marilyn Monroe picture went back up on the wall.

I’m currently searching for a life size Dorothy Dandridge wall picture.

They will be placed alongside each other.

As they should’ve been 50 plus years ago.

Go Dorothy! Go Marilyn!

 

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