‘Dandridge’ sizzle

HBO taps thesps for life of famed '50s actress

NEW YORK — HBO Pictures has signed Brent Spiner, D.B. Sweeney, Loretta Divine and Cynda Williams to key roles in the biopic “Dorothy Dandridge,” starring Halle Berry as the celebrated black movie actress of the 1950s who died in poverty of a drug overdose at 42, her career blighted by racism.

The made-for-HBO movie, which starts production in Los Angeles on Saturday, features Spiner as Earl Mills, Dandridge’s agent, who was in love with her. The role of Otto Preminger, who directed her in “Porgy & Bess” and “Carmen Jones,” her two most famous movies, has not yet been cast. Preminger also became her lover.

Coolidge to direct

Others in the cast include LaTanya Richardson, Obba Babatunde and Tamara Taylor. Martha Coolidge is the director.

Dandridge, one of the great screen beauties, reached the peak of her career in 1954 when she received an Academy Award nomination for best actress in “Carmen Jones.” But the Hollywood studios were uncomfortable with her sexuality, which restricted the parts she could get.

Unhappy ending

When her movie career ended in the late ’50s, Dandridge became a nightclub singer. But she led a mostly tragic life, a victim of two bad marriages, heavy dependence on alcohol and drugs and bankruptcy. She also had a brain-damaged daughter.

Berry, who’s not only the star but one of the executive producers of the movie, is one of a number of actresses who have tried to put together a Dandridge movie. Whitney Houston has her own biopic about Dandridge in the works, a theatrical project that’s still in development. Janet Jackson and Vanessa Williams have also publicly said that they’re interested in starring in a film about Dandridge.

The other executive producers of “Dorothy Dandridge” are Robert Katz, Moctesuma Esparza, Vince Cirrincione and Josh Mauer. The writers are Shonda Rhimes and Scott Abbott, whose screenplay comes from Mills’ biography “Dorothy Dandridge.”

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