August 99: Introducing Dorothy Dandridge

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by Shelby J. Jones

Written by: Shonda Rhimes and Scott Abbott
Based on the book "Dorothy Dandridge," by Earl Mills
Directed by: Martha Coolidge
Produced by: Larry Albucher
Distributed by: HBO Pictures
Starring: Halle Berry, Brent Spiner, Obba Babatunde, Loretta Devine, Cynda Williams, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Tamara Taylor
Debut Date: Saturday, August 21, 1999 9pm
Other Dates: Tuesday, August 24, 1999 9pm, Sunday, August 29, 1999 11:30pm

"Berry's Dandridge Has Rhythm and She's Got Music"

Three out of Four Stars
*** Halle Berry

Who is gonna play Dorothy Dandridge? Will Whitney Houston do it or will Vanessa Williams tackle the role? That question was tossed around for years before Halle Berry finally obtained rights to Earl Mill's book, Dorothy Dandridge. Well, despite the fact Whitney and Vanessa are exceptional singers and beautiful screen legends to boot, HBO made the right choice in having Halle Berry take this one.

Berry, who has been fascinated by the screen legend all her life, delivers a great performance bringing Dorothy back to life in a grand fashion. The singing, dancing and glamour of Dandridge are quite vivid as Berry's uncanny resemblance strikes a mighty blow in this highly anticipated HBO film. "I was mesmerized by her beauty, her poise and her charisma," says Berry. "I had never seen a black woman quite like that in a film. She was someone I could admire and aspire to be like. She gave me hope."


Set against the early glamour days of the 1940's and 1950's in Hollywood, the film chronicles the life of the sexy and talented actress and singer, Dorothy Dandridge (1924-1965). The film takes us to the Obba Baldwin early stages of life for Dandridge. She was raised in Cleveland by her mother (played by Loretta Divine) and Auntie (LaTanya Richardson) her mother's special friend.

After forming the Dandridge sisters, Dandridge meets Harold Nicholas (Obba Babatunde) and quickly the two fall in love and get married. After that marriage turns out to be too much for either to handle, Harold leaves and re-starts his life in Paris. From that moment, Dorothy must fend for herself and her mentally challenged child.

She hangs out with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner and obtains her first break when she meets Earl Mills (Brent Spiner) and her career takes off. She then becomes a hot item in Hollywood and with the men. Soaring through life until its tragic end, we witness her triumphs - Academy Award Nomination - and her serious problems, drugs and men.


When is Hollywood gonna wake up and offer Halle Berry (Dorothy Dandridge) leading roles in a wider variety of films? The young actress delivers a flawless performance as Dorothy Dandridge. Much like her previous performances in Losing Isaiah, Queen, and Jungle Fever, Berry is consistently able to dig deeper into her characters and bring much, much more to the movie-house than a beautiful face.

The emotional range and acting skill of this young woman has yet to be tested. As Dorothy Dandridge we receive a full dose of Halle's skill. It's perfect in look, rhythm and one. Brent Spiner (Earl Mills) delivers a soft edged performance, as he was able to capture the obvious admiration and love that Mills had for Dandridge.

Dropping his computer ignited performance as Data on Star Trek; Spiner shows that he's got range as well. Loretta Devine

Dandridge's first love was Harold Nicholas portrayed commandingly by Obba Babatunde. Babatunde glides through the role as if personally invited by Harold to capture him on screen. When he and Berry get together as Harold and Dorothy, the chemistry works very well.

Nominated for an Academy Award in 1985 for his role in Out of Africa, Klaus Maria Brandauer really delivers the goods as Otto Preminger.

Cynda Williams (Vivian Dandridge), Loretta Devine (Ruby Dandridge) and Tamara Taylor (Geri Nicholas) round out the crew to provide for solid, well acted story.


Once again HBO Pictures delivers a winner. This is one impressive biopic; truthful in tone and enduring to such a wonderful and major film actress. The only thing that bothered my eyes was that it wasn't long Halle Berry and Klaus Maria Brandauer enough. Dorothy Dandridge died at the young age of 42 and had so much happen in that short time that I am certain Halle Berry wanted to spend a little more time showing us how Dorothy's life resembled a wild roller-coaster ride. Nevertheless, in the roughly one hundred and twenty minutes of the film, Berry lights up the screen, Babatunde does his thing, Brandauer and everyone else bring Dorothy Dandridge to 1999 and allow us take a peak at this wonderful yet tragic screen legend. Why do so many film stars have tragic endings? They always appear to have it all going for them and then we learn that internally they are crumbling and have been crumbling for long stretches. After watching this film, you will learn that Dorothy Dandridge had so many challenges to overcome that it was a major accomplishment for her to achieve as much as she did. Bravos to Berry and HBO for telling this story. Dandridge will always be remembered but now everyone will have a chance to learn more about the first and foremost African-American female superstar.


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