Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte appeared in three feature films together – Bright Road, Carmen Jones, and Island in the Sun.
“For me, at age twenty-five, Bright Road was just a fun first stab at acting in films. For Dorothy Dandridge, who was then twenty-nine, it meant much more,” Belafonte wrote in his autobiography. “I had the chance to observe, at close range, the actress Dorothy Dandridge, a future legend, in her first starring role.”
While the film was their first time on-screen together, it wasn't the first time they met. They first locked eyes when she performed at La Vie En Rose in New York City.
She remembered, “He stood against a back wall and waited for me to go on. In the succeeding months, Harry and I saw each other regularly.”
Despite their mutual attraction on Bright Road’s set, they chose to remain friends.
“Dorothy’s marriage had ended the year before… [and she had] a fierce focus on getting her career back on track.”
The film was notable for showing Dandridge as, in Belafonte’s words, a “stunningly gorgeous black woman” who was a teacher, not a maid or slave.
“In its own modest way, Bright Road would break a color barrier.”
Carmen Jones reunited Belafonte and Dandridge, this time adapting a highly dramatic tale where the leads would share more screen time together -- and even an on-screen romance.
He said, “I was thrilled, of course, to be working with Dorothy Dandridge again. I was thrilled just to see her.”
Once again, the pair, despite their attraction, kept things friendly. This was also because Dandridge had another suitor: director Otto Preminger. The couple kept their romance quiet on set, though hints of it were noticeable. The hot tempered director, known for his outbursts, could sometimes be calmed by Dandridge's pleas for kindess towards the others.
Her relationship with Otto, however, wasn't meant to last. After four years, they broke up, though he still directed her in Porgy and Bess.
“In retrospect, Carmen Jones was Dorothy’s high point. For both of us, it was an intensely emotional acting experience,” Belafonte said. In fact, he considers the film’s final scene – when he strangles Carmen – to be his “most dramatic moment as a Hollywood actor.”
While they again worked together in Island in the Sun, this time, Belafonte was romancing Joan Fontaine on-screen.
Harry and Dorothy could have worked together for Porgy and Bess, but Belafonte turned down the role that eventually went to Sidney Poitier.
While they may have never embraced the potential of romance, the actors did remain friends, though their respective careers and relationships kept them busy.
When the tragic news of Dandridge’s death reached Belafonte, he couldn’t help but acknowledge her talent and the tough road that she had faced.
“The gorgeous, brilliantly talented woman I knew was gone,” he said.