Vivian Alferetta Dandridge (April 22, 1921 – October 26, 1991) was a singer and actress. She is best known as the sister of actress Dorothy Dandridge and the daughter of character actress Ruby Dandridge. She was a member of the Dandridge Sisters musical group, along with Etta Jonesand Dorothy Dandridge.
Vivian was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Cyril Dandridge (October 25, 1895 - July 9, 1989), and the former Ruby Jean Butler, an aspiring entertainer. Dandridge's parents separated shortly before the birth of her sister Dorothy.
Singer and actress
Vivian Dandridge reached the peak of her fame with sister Dorothy and friend Etta Jones in the vocal group the Dandridge Sisters, which was formed in 1934. Initially, Ruby Dandridge put her two girls to work performing acrobatics, songs, and skits. She billed them as the "Wonder Children." Realizing the potential success of her girls (and acknowledging her chance of stardom in the entertainment industry was at best, limited), Ruby and her lesbian lover Geneva Williams decided to have her daughters embark on a tour of the United States. Under Neva's tutelage, the Wonder Children earned $400–$500 per appearance during the late 1920s, touring through Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and many other states. Neva accompanied the girls on piano as well as acted as their manager and was a particularly aggressive disciplinarian. Both Dorothy and Vivian suffered from her angry outbursts, which were frequent and severe.
Because their income was more important to the family than their education, Dorothy and Vivian did not attend regular classes at school until the 8th grade, instead relying on tutors (since they were the primary breadwinners of the family). After the Stock Market Crash in 1929, the Wonder Children were added to the long list of the unemployed. Ruby Dandridge, still clinging to the hopes of a film career for herself and her daughters, bought 4 bus tickets and moved the family to Los Angeles. After immersing herself into the professional community of black Hollywood, Ruby found limited opportunities for herself or her girls. After Clarence Muse, a working black actor in Hollywood (who befriended the family) told Ruby that her daughters were unlikely to meet with success in California, she enrolled them in a dancing school run by Laurette Butler. Here, the Dandridge daughters befriended another girl, Etta Jones, and began to sing together. After Jones' father heard them sing, Ruby Dandridge decided that the three should form a singing group. Thus, the Dandridge Sisters were born. While Neva and Ruby gained bit parts in films (Neva appeared as a maid in the Shirley Temple vehicle The Little Colonel), the Dandridge Sisters began appearing in musical sequences of films and toured over the United States, sharing bills with the likes of Nat King Cole,Mantan Moreland, and dancer Marie Bryant.
The female trio was a sort of black Andrews Sisters, singing songs in three part harmony. They eventually became headliners at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York. They even appeared in a short-run Broadway musical revue, Swingin' The Dream, in 1939, at the Centre Theater. The Dandridge Sisters also toured in London and Hawaii, and recorded four tracks with well-known big band leader Jimmie Lunceford and his orchestra: "You Ain't Nowhere," Minnie the Moocher Is Dead," "I Ain't Gonna Study War No More," and a minor hit, "That's Your Red Wagon." After touring for a year and a half, however, the Dandridge Sisters group abruptly disbanded, after Dorothy Dandridge was determined to become an actress, unsatisfied with just appearances in occasionalsoundies or bit parts in Hollywood films. She detested life on the road and was certain she could find bigger success as a dramatic actress. This left Vivian in a desperate financial situation. She attempted to find work in clubs, but many were not interested. She did, however, find employment as an occasional actress in minor film roles but did not achieve the same level of success as her sister Dorothy.
Marriage & Children
Vivian was married five times: Jack Montgomery (1942-43), Warren Bracken (?-?), Ralph Bledsoe (1946-47), Forace Stead (1951-53) and Gustav Friedrich (1958-?). All of her marriages ended in divorce. She was also romantically linked to actor Emmett Wallace (known as "Babe Wallace") with whom she had a son, Michael Emmett Wallace (born November 7, 1943).
Life in Dorothy & Ruby's shadow
Vivian appeared in some minor film roles: she co-starred with Frances Dee as native girl Melisse in the 1943 classic I Walked With a Zombie and in 1953's Bright Road, starring Dorothy Dandridge, in which she played the small role of schoolteacher Ms. Nelson (she received no credit on either film). She also acted as Dorothy's hairdresser on the film.
She appeared with the Dandridge Sisters in musical sequences of the films The Big Broadcast of 1936 (with George Burns and Gracie Allen), A Day at the Races (with the Marx Brothers), It Can't Last Forever (with Ralph Bellamy and Betty Furness), Irene (with Ray Milland, Anna Neagle, and Billie Burke) and Going Places (with Louis Armstrong and Maxine Sullivan).
She also appeared in the soundie Snow Gets in Your Eyes as a member of the Dandridge Sisters and as the voice of "So White" in the controversial cartoon Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfsopposite her mother Ruby Dandridge. In the summer of 1955, she replaced Thelma Carpenter in the Broadway play Anchors Aweigh. She moved to the Alvin Hotel in New York City, but after this engagement she largely disappeared from show business. She attended the Academy Awards in 1955 with Dorothy Dandridge when Dorothy was nominated for Best Actress for her role inCarmen Jones.
She appeared as an uncredited extra in 1943's Stormy Weather.
Disappearance of Vivian
By 1956, friends and family members were concerned for the welfare of Vivian, as she moved away and went into seclusion. Dorothy Dandridge hired a private detective to find her missing sister, but to no avail; Dorothy later found out that her sister was in the south of France trying to find work. Later, she found out that her sister was residing in New York City. At this point, Dorothy and Vivian did not remain in contact, though Dorothy sometimes provided financial assistance to Vivian and her son Michael Wallace. Other than the occasional telegram, Dorothy and Vivian remained estranged.
Death of Sister
Vivian Dandridge did not attend the funeral of her sister, admitting that it was just too painful to return. She said, "I grieved in my own way, in my privacy. Dottie knew that I loved her." Vivian later rekindled a relationship with her mother (albeit an adversarial one) until her mother died penniless in a Los Angeles nursing home of a massive heart attack in 1987.
In 1968, Vivian signed with Jubilee Records and recorded a jazz LP, The Look of Love that same year. The album was produced by Bob Stephens and conducted by Charles Coleman. The album included such tracks as "Love is Blue", "Try to Remember", "Sunny", "Strange Fruit", and "Lover Man". On the cover, Vivian is lying on the sofa with a snifter of brandy in her hand, hovering pensively above a burning cigarette in an ashtray next to a lamp on the side table. The album was not successful.