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‘Introducing Dorothy Dandridge’ is Halle Berry’s movie mission

SHARE ‘Introducing Dorothy Dandridge’ is Halle Berry’s movie mission

PASADENA, Calif. -- For Halle Berry, getting a movie made about the life of Dorothy Dandridge was more than just a job, it was a crusade of sorts.

"I think what initially inspired me was the fact that Dorothy had been so forgotten and that her contribution was so great and so meaningful -- not only to me, but to an entire community of people," Berry recently told TV critics.Dandridge was the first black woman to be nominated for a best-actress Oscar -- for her role in "Carmen Jones." But, as depicted in the HBO movie "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," which premieres Saturday at 9 p.m., Dandridge was never able to achieve the stardom she sought because of the discrimination against people of her race in the '40s, '50s and '60s.

There's a particularly appalling scene when a defiant Dandridge dips her toe in the pool at a Las Vegas hotel -- only to learn that the pool was drained, scrubbed and refilled with fresh water after she did so.

And Dandridge's life is the stuff Hollywood legends are made of. There was her tumultuous marriage to Harold Nicholas of the tap-dancing Nicholas brothers; her tumultuous affair with director Otto Preminger; her tumultuous second marriage to man who beat her; and her eventual drug-induced death that may or may not have been a suicide.

Dandridge achieved a good degree of stardom but she has indeed been largely forgotten.

"Her peers have become larger in their death than even in their lives," Berry said, pointing to people like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. "And still people don't remember who Dorothy Dandridge was. My social awareness made me feel a responsibility to bring her legacy to the screen and let it live in the way in which, I believe, she deserved to have it lived."

The movie isn't great, but Berry is very good in it. Dandridge's life was certainly theatrical enough, from her early struggles, her troubled marriages, the birth of a retarded daughter, her money problems, her affair with director Otto Preminger, he success, her failures, and her ultimate death.

This being HBO, the movie contains bits of nudity and a good deal of strong language. And, while watchable, it never quite reaches the level of compelling.

Still, it's a great role for Berry, who is also an executive producer of the telefilm and the driving force behind getting it made. And she's grateful to Dandridge, who died before she was born.

"As an actress, it was also a great vehicle for me," Berry said. "Dorothy gave me the greatest gift. She gave the opportunity, after 10 years of struggling in this business, to be a leading lady."

Berry said that her life has parallels to Dandridge's life -- "being in Hollywood, wanting to be a leading lady and feeling like a leading lady but being in an industry that has no place for us."

"My struggle has been very much hers, trying to carve a niche for myself as a leading lady. And, although she opened the door for me, because she was never recognized in the way that she should have been, I'm still in the exact same position she was."

DETERMINATION: Halle Berry was just one of several high-profile stars (including Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston) who wanted to star in Dorothy Dandridge's life story -- but she's the one who succeeded in bringing it to fruition.

"Without speaking for those other ladies, I know that I have been so passionate about Dorothy Dandridge and about telling the story that I was relentless in my effort," Berry said. "I am an actress first and this is all I thought about for six years. Even when I went on and did other projects -- and you know I went through a lot of things in my personal life -- I always had in the back of my mind, 'I'm going to make this story on Dorothy Dandridge.' "

And she thinks her single-mindedness allowed her to win the Dandridge derby.

"The other women that I believe were close to making it -- Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson -- they're also singing superstars," Berry said. "And they had other careers that demanded as much of their attention as they could possibly give, and I don't think they had the kind of time that I had to sit and stew over it and ponder over it and try to figure out how to knock down doors. And I had a manager and another producer that were working relentlessly at trying to get this done. And I think that's what probably made the difference."

AMAZING SIMILARITIES: As portrayed in HBO's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," the life of the late star was, well, rather tumultuous.

And, perhaps somewhat alarmingly, Dandridge's best friend, Geri Branton, said she saw great similarities between Berry and Dandridge. "It's amazing, and she does it so well," Branton said.

Berry appeared horrified when Branton was asked how she was most like Dandridge.

"I think that Halle's personal life is shocking in that it's the same," Branton said.

"Geri, shhh," Berry said.

But Branton, now in her 70s, plowed on ahead.

"They're beautiful people, beautiful on the outside but more so on the inside. Generous and lovely," she said. "It's unbelievable. And when I saw Halle the first time, I was taken aback. Really taken aback. They're so very much akin."

Berry, whose personal life has made headlines (particularly her failed marriage to baseball star David Justice), quickly recovered.

"I don't know what she's talking about," Berry joked. "I think you already know it. It's been written about in every paper already."