Bombshells of Color

Bombshells of color have graced our screen for almost a century, but it is now time for them to receive recognition for their talent.

By Daryn O'Neal, Staff Writer

From the start of the twentieth century leading into the Golden Age of Hollywood, blonde, typically white and talented beauties such as Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, and Jayne Mansfeild graced the screen with attractive looks and personalities, but due to the rampant racism that was more socially acceptable at the time, many beautiful vivacious women of color were not granted the same opportunities of fame and stardom.

“In classic Hollywood, bombshell status was usually kept from women of color who were often sexualized but not deified for that sexuality,” The Take said.

This is why in a new era where both beautiful women of color are starting to gain the recognition they deserve, it is only appropriate to pay homage to bombshells of color who made it possible for women of color today to be a symbol of beauty.

Due to the uprising of civil rights protests that were led by the black community, many black actresses such as Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne, and Diahann Carrol started to demand as much recognition as their white counterparts. Therefore, they graced the scene with their beauty and their talent. However, when it comes to who embodied the Bombshell persona the most, Dorothy Dandridge seemed to always fit the mold.

Cleveland Ohio native, Dorothy Dandridge, was a talented actress and singer who was the first Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for her role of the beautiful parachute maker, Carmen Jones, who seduces Harry Belefonte’s character Corporal Joe, a flight soldier during the World War II era.

Dorothy Dandridge was born on November 9, 1922 to American actress Ruby Dandridge and cabinet maker Cyril Dandridge.  Dorothy Dandridge entered into the world of entertainment at a young age by her mother and her mother’s romantic partner, Geneva Williams. Dandridge and her sister Vivian once preformed in a group called The Wonder Children.

Due to her early childhood music group, Dandridge started to gain major traction, which led her to star in many movies of the mid 1930’s, such as Teacher’s Beau and Easy to Take. Although she harbored great success, she had an unsuccessful marriage and a mentally handicapped child who influenced her decision to step away from the entertainment industry.

When Dandridge came back from her hiatus, her career was at the highest. This was mainly due to her appearance in Carmen Jones and Marco Polo. Unfortunately, Dandridge was all too aware of her professional hurdles that were caused by racism; Dandridge fell into a deep depression due to her belief that she would not reach the same levels of stardom as her white counterparts. Dandridge ended up dying of an antidepressants overdose at the age of 42. In spite of her success, Dandridge only had around two dollars in her bank account at the time of her death.

Alongside African American entertainers, there were also many Hispanic actresses such as Rita Moreno, Katy Jurado, and above all, Rita Hayworth, who was originally known as Margarita Carmen Cansino.

Margarita Carmen Cansino was a highly successful actress and dancer who was born on October 17, 1918 in New York. Cansino was a product of a Spanish father and an Irish mother who were both successful dancers in the industry, but Cansino knew that in order to achieve high levels of success, she must make some changes regarding her identity and appearance.

Once Cansino signed with Columbia studios in the mid 1930’s, Cansino began painful electrolysis sessions in order to make her hairline look less, “Latina.” She dyed her hair from a jet black shade to a strawberry blonde color, got a a nose job, bleached her skin, and most importantly, anglicized her name to Rita Hayworth.

Soon, Hayworth embarked upon great success. She starred in many films such as Blood and Sand, Cover Girl, and The Lady from Shanghai. Hayworth is most famous for her starring role in the 1946 film Gilda, which she received an Academy Award nomination for.

Hayworth’s last film before her retirement was The Wrath of God, in 1972. After over 40 years in the entertainment industry, Hayworth died of Alzheimer’s disease on May 14, 1987 at 69 years old.

Many vintage movie lovers disregard Hayworth’s heritage because many people do not even know that she is a women of color. Although it is clear that Hayworth gained her success partially by white-washing her appearance and erasing a crucial part of herself in order to fit into, western beauty standards. We as entertainment viewers must question why our entertainment industry seems to favor and display white adjacent entertainers over those who are more ethnic. to the point that Hayworth’s success was dependent on her appearance rather than her talent alone.

Lastly, we are directing our attention towards Asian bombshell Anna May Wong. Wong was born Wong Liu-tsong on January 3, 1905 in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles. Wong knew she wanted to be a movie star from a rather young age, and she would often skip school to visit movie sets.

When Wong was 14 she was casted to be in the 1919 film, The Red Lantern, as an extra. She later dropped out of high school to become a full time actress at the age of 17. She went on to be in many other films such as, Bits of Life, and the Thief of Bagdad. By the end of her life, Wong acted in over 60 movies throughout her career.

Although Wong acted in many movies, Wong’s career was substantially limited because of the anti-Asian discrimination laws and entertainment policies that were socially and politically acceptable at the time.

Often times, Wong played roles that depicted common favorable Asian stereotypes that were either meant to be fetishized or despised. Since interracial kisses were prohibited during her time as an actresses, Wong was denied many lead roles that involved a romantic partner. She found movie success in Europe as well as the United States, but she still faced the same professional hurdles due to her race

In 1935 Wong was determined to expand upon her craft by starring in the movie, The Good Earth. Not surprisingly, the role was given to actress Luise Rainer, who was a white women in yellow face. This caused Wong to fall into a deep depression which led to her alcoholism.

After many years of very little work, Wong died in February 3, 1961.

Wong, Dandridge, and Hayworth are only a few notable examples of actresses of color who were often neglected by the media in spite of their talent. Although we are coming to a place in society where minorities in all aspects are starting to gain more glory and recognition, we as a current generation must make it our duty to uphold the legacy of these highly underrated entertainers in order to pay homage to those who paved the way for women of color in the entertainment industry today.