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Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Grave Sightings: Dorothy Dandridge

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Every time I so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, they’re all fascinating. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

As the first African-American actress to nab an Academy Award nomination for a leading role, Dorothy Dandridge opened doors for those who came after her. Though she ultimately lost to Grace Kelly, the nomination itself was groundbreaking.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

After her appearance at the Oscars, Dandridge was able to command $75,000 to $125,000 per picture. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. The roles she was offered after her Oscar-nominated turn in Carmen Jones weren’t exactly the roles she had in mind. She grew frustrated with the stereotypical roles and limitations that black actresses encountered.

In addition to the poor film roles, Dandridge suffered some other setbacks. She married for the second time, this time to failed restaurant owner Jack Dennison. He was abusive, and they divorced in 1962—which is when she discovered that he had also harmed her finances. According to manager Earl Mills, she was more than $127,000 in debt at the time of her divorce from Dennison, and had assets worth just $5,000.

By 1965, Dandridge was poised for a comeback. She had earned some publicity and some much-needed cash from a series of nightclub performances, and had just signed a contract for two films, worth a total of $100,000.

Getty

But before the comeback could happen, it all came to an end. On September 8, 1965, Mills came to pick Dandridge up for an appointment and couldn’t get her to answer the door. Alarmed, he pried it open with a tire iron—and found Dandridge on the floor, naked. She had already been dead for two hours.

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office originally determined a rather bizarre cause of death. She died, they said, because she had fractured her right foot at the gym five days prior to her death. The fracture had caused tiny pieces of fat to flake off the bone marrow, which caused blockages to her lungs and brain. They called it a rare embolism.

A small funeral was held, with very few of the Hollywood elite in attendance. Afterward, Dandridge was cremated and interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Though she had been laid to rest, the questions about her death hadn’t been. The results of an extensive toxicology report came out two months later, and it concluded something different: Dandridge had died from “acute drug intoxication” of Tofranil, an antidepressant.

Was it suicide? That question is still debated today. On one hand, her finances were in a dire state of affairs and her career was a shadow of what it once had been. On the other hand, friends said Dandridge had never been happier. She had new projects—and new paychecks—on the horizon, and was excited to restore her faded fame.

Nearly 35 years after her death, Dandridge did become a big name in Hollywood again. Halle Berry won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for portraying her in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge—accolades Dandridge herself never had the chance to win. Two years later, at the Academy Awards, Berry picked up where Dandridge left off in 1954, becoming the first black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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History
The Curse on Shakespeare's Grave
Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images
Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images

It's a pretty good practice to avoid incurring the wrath of the dead in general, but if there's a ghost you really don't want to upset, it's probably William Shakespeare's. Just think of the many inventive ways he killed people in his plays. That's why the curse on his grave at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-Upon-Avon should be taken seriously:

"Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones."

It's thought that the warning was penned by Shakespeare himself. In his day, it was common for bodies to be exhumed for research purposes or even just to make room for more burials, and the Bard did not want that to happen to his remains. So far, his warning seems to have worked. Even when the grave received some repairs in 2008, workers said the stones would not actually be moved and the bones certainly would not be disturbed. 

It has recently been suggested that Shakespeare's remains be exhumed and studied using the same techniques that allowed us to learn more about King Richard III, so we may soon find out how effective that curse really is. Professor Francis Thackeray from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who wants to exhume the bones, seems to be pushing his luck. "We could possibly get around [the curse] by at least exposing the bones and doing high-resolution, non-destructive laser surface scanning for forensic analyses without moving a single bone," he said. "Besides, Shakespeare said nothing about teeth in that epitaph."

Will it be enough to avoid the Bard's wrath? Only time will tell.

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politics
Grave Sightings: Hubert Humphrey
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

With the state of politics lately, it’s hard to imagine a generous act of kindness from one political rival to another. But if Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon were capable of burying the hatchet, there’s hope for anyone.

Humphrey, a senator from Minnesota, ran for president several times. In 1952, he lost the Democratic nomination to Adlai Stevenson. In 1960, of course, he faced a charismatic young senator from Massachusetts named Jack Kennedy. In 1968, Humphrey, who was vice president at the time, came closest to the presidency—but Nixon triumphed by a little more than 500,000 popular votes.


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Though he graciously admitted defeat and pledged to help the new president-elect, Humphrey wasn’t shy about criticizing Nixon. Just 10 months after Nixon took office, Humphrey stated that the administration had done “poorly—very poorly” overall, citing the increase in interest rates and the cost of living. Nixon and his team, Humphrey said, had “forgotten the people it said it would remember.” He was still making his opinions known four years after the election, turning his eye to Vietnam. “Had I been elected, we would now be out of that war,” he told the press on January 10, 1972.


Stacy Conradt

The Watergate scandal broke later that year, and Humphrey no doubt felt validated. He mounted another unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1972, but lost the nomination to George McGovern. Humphrey briefly considered trying one more time in 1976, but ultimately nixed the idea. "It's ridiculous — and the one thing I don't need at this stage in my life is to be ridiculous," he said. The public didn’t know it at the time but the politician had been battling bladder cancer for several years. By August 1977, the situation had become terminal, and Humphrey was aware that his days were numbered.

When he knew he had just a few weeks left to live, Humphrey did something that would stun both Republicans and Democrats: He called former rival Richard Nixon and invited him to his upcoming funeral. He knew that Nixon had been depressed and isolated in his political exile, and despite the Watergate scandal and the historical bad blood, he wanted Nixon to have a place of honor at the ceremony. Humphrey knew his death would give the former president a plausible reason to return to Washington, and told Nixon to say he was there at the personal request of Hubert Humphrey if anyone questioned his motives.

Humphrey died on January 13, 1978—and when the funeral was held a few days later, Nixon did, indeed, attend. He stayed out of the Washington limelight, emerging right before the ceremony—to audible gasps. Humphrey’s gracious act must have been on Nixon’s mind when he listened to Vice President Walter Mondale sing the fallen senator’s praises: “He taught us all how to hope, and how to love, how to win and how to lose. He taught us how to live, and finally he taught us how to die.”

Nixon wasn’t the only former foe whom Humphrey had mended fences with. Barry Goldwater, who ran against Humphrey in 1964, had this to say:

“I served with him in the Senate, I ran against him in campaigns, I debated with him, I argued with him. But I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a friendship as much as the one that existed between the two of us. I know it may sound strange to people who see in Hubert a liberal and who see in me a conservative, that the two of us could ever get together; but I enjoyed more good laughs, more good advice, more sound counsel from him that I have from most anyone I have been associated with in this business of trying to be a senator.”

After the ceremony in D.C., Humphrey was buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. His wife, Muriel, joined him there when she died 20 years later.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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