the private world of dorothy dandridge

Olivette Miller, celebrated “swing” harpist of the 1940s, was born 101 years ago today (February 2, 1914) in Illinois. Here parents were Bessie Oliver Miller, a 1900’s chorus girl and the venerable actor, comedian, writer and producer Flournoy Miller, who co-wrote and produced the groundbreaking Broadway musical “Shuffle Along.” Raised on Harlem’s famous Striver’s Row, Ms. Miller graduated from East Greenwich Academy, a private Methodist boarding school in Rhode Island in 1931, and went on to study music in Paris and at Juilliard. She originally planned to play concert halls but after being “bitten by the night club bug” she turned to more popular music. Ms. Miller’s stunning beauty and colorful love-life kept her in the newspapers almost as much as her performances around the country and the world. She performed with both Lena Horne and a young not-yet-a-superstar Dorothy Dandridge in the 1940s, top notch night clubs in Hollywood, Chicago and New York, and made a few appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1960s. I’m still trying to pin it down, but by my count, she was married at least six times. The Chicago Defender reported her impending divorce from her first husband, Channing Price in November 1934 and in October 1939, the New York Amsterdam News reported that Ms. Miller, who had married a musician named Oett Mallard two years earlier, gave birth to their son, Alvin Miller Mallard, on October 1, 1939 in Denver, Colorado. She was married to the dancer Freddie Gordon in the 1940s and in the 1950s to the comedian Bert Gibson and performed and toured with him across the country. In the 1970s, when she sued Flip Wilson for copyright infringement over a sketch he did on his show that Ms. Miller claimed was lifted from her father’s work in “Shuffle Along,” her name ws Olivette Miller Darby. By the early 1990s, she had a bit part as a maid in the film “A Rage in Harlem” and was billed as Olivette Miller Briggs, due to her marriage to the dancer Bunny Briggs. Ms. Miller died on April 27, 2003 at the age of 89. Photo: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

According to her sister Vivian Dandridge, Dottie thought the world of Harry Belafonte. She often confided her romantic fantasies about him, and thought it would be wonderful if they married. Dottie’s manager, Earl Mills, said that an on-again, off-again romantic relationship between the two initially began during the filming of Bright Road, and went on for several years. Mr. Belafonte had never confirmed this. He’s simply said “if I wanted to be her leading man in private, I would have been her leading man in private.”