Ruby Dandridge was a talented and versatile actress who broke many barriers for African American women in the entertainment industry. She was best known for her roles on radio shows such as Amos ‘n Andy and The Judy Canova Show, as well as her appearances in films such as Cabin in the Sky and A Hole in the Head. She was also the mother of Dorothy Dandridge, one of the first black actresses to be nominated for an Academy Award. However, Ruby Dandridge’s life was not without challenges and hardships. She faced racism, sexism, and personal tragedies that affected her health and happiness. How did Ruby Dandridge die, and what legacy did she leave behind? This article will explore these questions and more.
Early Life and Career
Ruby Dandridge was born Ruby Jean Butler on March 3, 1900, in Wichita, Kansas. She was one of four children of Nellie Simon, a maid, and George Butler, a janitor, grocer, and entertainer. According to Wikipedia, Dandridge’s father was also “a famous minstrel man.” She inherited his love for performing and began singing and dancing at a young age.
On September 30, 1919, she married Cyril Dandridge, a cabinetmaker and aspiring entertainer. They moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where they had two daughters: Vivian, born in 1921, and Dorothy, born in 1922. Ruby and Cyril divorced in 1927, and Ruby moved with her daughters to Los Angeles, California, to pursue a career in show business.
Ruby Dandridge soon found work as a radio actress, playing various roles on popular shows such as Amos ‘n Andy, The Judy Canova Show, Tonight at Hoagy’s, and Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch. She also encouraged her daughters to perform as singers and dancers, forming a trio called The Dandridge Sisters. They appeared on radio shows and in nightclubs, as well as in films such as King Kong (1933), The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935), It Can’t Last Forever (1937), Going Places (1938), Irene (1940), Sun Valley Serenade (1941), and The Harlem Globetrotters (1951).
Film and Television Roles
Ruby Dandridge also had a successful career as a film and television actress, often playing maids, housekeepers, or other domestic workers. She was praised for her comedic timing and expressive voice. Some of her notable film roles include:
- Rheba, a maid, in Junior Miss (1945)
- Mrs. Kelso in Cabin in the Sky (1943)
- Dabby in Tap Roots (1948)
- Sally in A Hole in the Head (1959)
She also appeared in films such as Tish (1942), Three Little Girls in Blue (1946), Father Is a Bachelor (1950), Bright Road (1953), The Decks Ran Red (1958), Tammy Tell Me True (1961), and Dead Ringer (1964).
On television, Ruby Dandridge played Oriole on both radio and TV versions of The Beulah Show, a sitcom about a black maid working for a white family. She also played Geranium on The Judy Canova Show, a comedy variety show starring singer and actress Judy Canova. She had guest roles on shows such as Front Row Center, Lux Video Theatre, Matinee Theatre, The Dick Powell Theatre, Checkmate, Yancy Derringer, Father Knows Best, Father of the Bride, and The Red Skelton Hour.
Personal Life and Death
Ruby Dandridge had a complicated personal life that affected her mental and physical health. She was romantically involved with Geneva Williams, also known as Neva, who became the manager and caretaker of her daughters. According to IMDb, Williams was abusive and controlling towards Ruby and her daughters, especially Dorothy. She also exploited them financially and professionally.
Ruby Dandridge suffered from depression and alcoholism throughout her life. She also had several strokes that left her partially paralyzed. She spent her last years in a nursing home in Los Angeles, California. On October 17, 1987, she died of a heart attack at the age of 87. According to Wikipedia, she was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.
Ruby Dandridge was a pioneer for African American women in the entertainment industry. She paved the way for future generations of black actresses to pursue their dreams and talents. She also inspired her daughter Dorothy, who became one of the most celebrated and influential black actresses of all time. Dorothy Dandridge was the first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Carmen Jones (1954). She also starred in films such as Bright Road (1953), Porgy and Bess (1959), and Island in the Sun (1957). She died in 1965 at the age of 42 from an accidental overdose of antidepressants.
Ruby Dandridge’s life and career were portrayed in several biographical works, such as the books Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography (1997) by Donald Bogle and Everything and Nothing: The Dorothy Dandridge Tragedy (1970) by Earl Conrad, and the film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999) starring Halle Berry. Ruby Dandridge was played by Loretta Devine in the film and by Esther Rolle in the book.
Ruby Dandridge was a remarkable woman who overcame many obstacles and achieved many accomplishments. She was a talented and versatile actress who entertained millions of people with her voice and personality. She was a loving and supportive mother who nurtured her daughters’ talents and ambitions. She was a trailblazer who opened doors for other black women in the entertainment industry. She was Ruby Dandridge, and she deserves to be remembered and honored.