Randolph, Laura B., Ebony
On how She Found Dorothy Dandridge's Spirit--And Finally Healed Her Own
I'M not sure I want to talk about this publicly," Halle Berry says warily. "I don't want people to think I'm a quack." The "this" is a series of eerie incidents Halle swears occurred while she was shooting Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, the HBO movie ailing this month in which she stars as the legendary beauty who made history as the first Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
They started when Halle brought home an original Dorothy Dandridge gown, the one she wore on The Ed Sullivan Show. Dandridge's longtime manager, Earl Mills, gave it to Halle, along with the rights to the book he wrote about the star, a book on which Halle based the movie.
When she finally got up the nerve to try the gown on, the way it fit her--perfectly, like a glove--was eerie, Halle says, but she took it as a sign that she should be starring in the movie she'd spent the last five years of her life trying in vain to convince the major Hollywood studios to support. "It felt like validation," she says of the way Dandridge's gown hugged every her curve. "I thought, `If the dress fits, wear it.'"
But then all kinds of weird stuff started happening. She'd be watching television and the lights would start flickering on and off. Or she'd come home and find her patio door wide open, even though--after the first time it happened--she'd made it a point not only to lock the door but to turn on the security system before she left for the set.
Even stranger were the dragging noises her housekeeper insisted came from Halle's bedroom whenever Halle went out. "Every time she heard them," she says, "she'd find the chair in front of my vanity pulled out." As if someone had been sitting in it? Halle shrugs her shoulders. "All I can tell you is she'd push the chair back in, and the next time I'd go out, it would be pulled out again."
As weird as those incidents were, they are not what convinced Halle she had to return the dress. That would be the night she says she saw something, to use her word, "supernatural," something for which, even now, she has no explanation.
"I was very protective of the gown and so I kept it in the den, covered in plastic," says Halle who, months after the incident, recounts it with a combination of wonderment and disbelief. "One day I heard this crackling noise, and I thought it was water boiling on the stove." The problem, says Halle, was the sound was coming from the den. "When I looked in, I saw this tiny little baby doll dress floating in front of Dorothy's gown," she says. "It freaked me out so much I just ran up to my bedroom and curled up in a ball. I was so hysterical I ended up calling Geri [Branton, Dandridge's closet friend]. I asked her if she'd ever had anything like that happen to her. She said, `Honey, I talk to Dottie all the time, and if she is at your house, she means you no harm.' I thought about it all night and decided that I was supposed to use the dress for inspiration, but the time had come to give it back."
Not that letting it go was easy. Even now, when Halle talks about returning the gown, her eyes unexpectedly well with tears. "In my mind, when the gown left, Dorothy left with it," she says. "And I wanted so much to hold on to a piece of her because, this may be my ego or my fantasy, but I believe Dorothy passed the ball to me. And I say that with such strong feelings of responsibility and humility. She blazed a trail for Black actresses and fought so hard to widen horizons for our people. That's how I approach my career. I want to fight as hard as she did."
What Halle wants more than anything, however, is to do the one thing Dandridge, for all her beauty and talent, was unable to: She wants to be at peace with herself, her life, her choices. "In my own life, I am determined to change the ending," she says, referring to Dandridge's tragic death in 1965, at the age of 42, from a drug overdose that many, including Halle, believe was not accidental. …