Hello Everybody. Mr. Joe Morella and Mr. Frank Segers with more on the Oscars and black actresses. (Mrs. Norman Maine is in the living room polishing her statuette.)

In a perfect world, we shouldn’t really care about skin color when it comes to Academy Awards.  But our world is not perfect, and in terms of Hollywood’s past, who got an Oscar nomination, AND when, has some importance.

We’ve already refreshed your memory — you were paying attention, weren’t you? — so that you know Hattie McDaniel was the first person of African American descent who was nominated (and won) an Academy Award.

And today we’re bringing you pictures of two more women who broke the color barrier in the 1940’s and early 1950’s with their nominations.

Ethel Waters (above left) gave a stunning performance in the 1949 film, “Pinky,” portraying the grandmother of a young girl who had pretended to be white while studying nursing in the North.

Pinky, played by Jeanne Crain, has returned to the segregated South to help Waters care for her dying friend, a rich grande dame played by Ethel Barrymore. The film was directed by Elia Kazan. And although he received no recognition from the Academy, Waters and Barrymore were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Crain was nominated for Best Actress.

Ethel Waters was only the second Black actress ever to be nominated.

It had been ten years since Hattie McDaniel. But none of the actresses from “Pinky” won.  (Olivia DeHaviland picked up her second Oscar for “The Heiress.”  Mercedes McCambridge won Best Supporting for “All the King’s Men.”)

Speaking of Ethel, she didn’t always look as she does here — the stereotype of the generously proportioned “Mammy” slaving over the family wash.

Scroll down and check her out in the photo we ran of Ethel fronting the Count Basie Orch. (Tuesday, Aug. 23). In that picture, she looks every bit the svelte, songstress she was (Ethel was an actress and a singer) in 1943.

It wasn’t until 1954 that a black person was nominated in the Best Actress or Actor Category.  That honor went to Dorothy Dandridge for her role in director Otto Preminger’s “Carmen Jones” opposite actor-singer Harry Belafonte.

Dandridge (upper right) was another actress-singer, a glamorous stunner from Day One, who never could play a convincing “Mammy.” Her mother, Ruby Dandridge was an actress who did.

Born in Cleveland in 1922, Dandridge’s all-too-abbreviated career (she was only 42 when she died) included several interesting movies such as Samuel Goldwyn’s “Porgy and Bess” in 1959, opposite Sidney Poitier. 

Although Lena Horne had been in Hollywood since the early Forties, she had only played leads in two major films, and was relegated to song inserts in MGM musicals.  But please do check her out as the devilish sexpot in 1943’s “Cabin In The Sky” directed by Vincente Minnelli.  And while you’re at it, you’ll see Ethel Water’s wonderfully athletic performance in the same movie.

In any case, we maintain that it can justly be said that Dorothy Dandridge was the FIRST African American leading lady in the Hollywood studio system.


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