What the heck is a "Kindaris"?

I've explained the name on some social media platforms but I think it's important to explain on the website, too. Kindaris - pronounced "ken-dare-ris" is a combination of three surnames: McKinney, Dandridge, and Harris. These are the surnames of three women who are very important to me and should be important to many: Nina Mae McKinney, Dorothy Dandridge, and Theresa Harris.

Nina Mae McKinney made her screen debut in 1929's Hallelujah! As just a teenager, she became Hollywood's first Black leading lady--playing the role of a wayward woman named "Chick". McKinney received rave reviews for her performance and subsequently signed a long-term contract with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (making her the first Black performer to sign a long-term contract with a Hollywood studio).

However, as was the case for many Black actresses, there were no leading roles for Ms. McKinney--one-scene singing/dancing performances and domestic servant roles would make up the majority of her two-decade film career. She'd find greater success as a cabaret performer in Europe, and would journey back and forth between Europe and the States during the late 30s, 1940s, and 1950s. She permanently returned to the United States in 1960 and died of a heart attack in 1967.

Probably the more renowned of the three, Dorothy Dandridge is regarded as Hollywood's first Black, female "movie star"--as in, she was the recipient of Hollywood's star treatment. She was able to access resources, venues, and opportunities that people of color were typically barred from and was offered more meaningful roles than those who'd come before her (as in, if the cast were predominately white, her scenes couldn't be edited out without chopping up the story).

Dandridge's professional career began at the age of three, when her mother, Ruby Dandridge, formed "The Wonder Children", a duo featuring herself (Dorothy) and her older sister, Vivian. By the mid-1930s, The Wonder Children became The Dandridge Sisters, which now included fellow classmate, Etta Jones (not to be confused with the "Don't Go to Strangers" singer). The Dandridge Sisters appeared in movies and popular nightclubs in both the United States and Europe, before disbanding in 1940. Right away, Dorothy would pursue a film career--but found greater success as a nightclub singer throughout the 1940s and early 50s. Her Oscar-nominated performance in 1954's Carmen Jones would shoot her into Hollywood's stratosphere--but her film career post-Carmen Jones was a rocky one. Nightclub performances would continue providing her with her bread and butter until the early 1960s.

Dorothy Dandridge died on September 8, 1965 at the age of 42. The cause of her death is still a bit of a mystery. A Los Angeles pathology institute determined the cause of death to be an accidental overdose of Tofranil, while the Los Angeles Coroner's office determined that traces of bone marrow from her fractured right foot (sustained from an injury in a gym) had gotten into her blood stream, and subsequently, into her lungs and brain.

Born in Houston, Texas on New Year's Eve, 1906 (some sources say 1909), Theresa Harris would go on to become one of Hollywood's most recognizable actresses--even if her name wasn't remembered. Harris appeared in nearly 100 movies (Hollywood and independent)--and she played a domestic servant in nearly every one.

The Harris family relocated to Los Angeles, California when Theresa was 11. After graduating from Jefferson High School, she studied at the UCLA Conservatory of Music and Zoellner's Conservatory of Music. She'd soon join The Lafayette Players--a launching pad for many of the classic film industry's biggest African-American stars.

Like Nina Mae McKinney, Theresa Harris made her screen debut in 1929, playing a singer in the Pre-Code film, Thunderbolt. From there, she'd embark on a three-decade film career playing "the maid" or even "the singer" in some of Hollywood's most beloved films (including Horse Feathers, Professional Sweetheart, Hold Your Man, Baby Face, Jezebel, The Women, and Miracle on 34th Street).

Harris retired from acting in the late 1950s. She'd saved and invested her income over the years and was also married to a doctor--allowing her to live comfortably until her passing on October 8, 1985. Her cause of death has never been disclosed.

Kindaris is for not just for me, or for us--Kindaris is for men and women like Nina, Dorothy, and Theresa: Paul Robeson; Sheila Guyse; Fredi and Isabel Washington; Philip Ahn; Clarence Muse; Hattie McDaniel; Louise Beavers; Ben Carter; Anna May Wong; heck, even for Stepin Fetchit. Kindaris is for all of those men and women whose full potential we were not allowed to see.

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