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Dorothy Van Engle- Beloved Beautiful Star of Early Black Cinema

Dorothy Van Engle isn't considered an icon of cinema but the ones who do know of her great beauty, delightful presence and talent becomes an instant fan and believes she deserves to be among the ranks of one the best of classic movies.

Oscar Micheaux was a popular filmmaker of independently produced movies for black audiences in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Dorothy Van Engle was Oscar Micheaux most beautiful and talented actress. Dorothy is one of the most beautiful women in screen history. Dorothy Van Engle didn't need Hollywood. She was a movie star within the Black community. She had substantial roles and created an image that Hollywood wouldn't dare let her create.

Dorothy Van Engle was Oscar's favorite actress whom he adored. Dorothy Van Engle became a favorite of Black audiences and still a favorite of all today.

Dorothy Van Engle's beauty and natural cool, calm, collective acting took audiences minds off the sometimes offending work of Micheaux.

The camera loved Dorothy. Dorothy was an actress without even trying. Dorothy didn't have to do too much to make movie watchers watch. Dorothy was a natural and her presence carried her without even saying a word. She created a different view of a black woman/actress that many should duplicate. Dorothy always displayed various elements in her roles that set her apart from other black actresses... determined but not overwhelming, sweet but not naive, independent but down to earth, intelligent but not snobbish or stuck up. Dorothy Van Engle also had this shy charm that could melt your heart. No black actress, even to this day ever created such a new defining, profound role of a black woman. No black actress ever appeared in such an image like Dorothy. In Hollywood it would of been impossible to not play a stereotypical role, but through Black Cinema, Dorothy made it possible and because of it, she's unforgettable! Dorothy didn't plan to make this image but she did, naturally, because she was all those things in real life.

Dorothy Van Engle presence on screen was a mixture of cool, calm, collective, sophistication, class, glamour, suave, and grace. A lot like Myrna Loy and Dolores del Rio screen image but in Dorothy's own stylish way. Dorothy carried many films with these qualities which often took audiences minds off the sometime offending work of Micheaux. Dorothy made many films watchable just with her charismatic presence and vibrant personality. In reality Dorothy was all the above, the real her came through the screen. One of the reason she was a favorite was because people could tell that she was not only a beautiful woman on the outside but on the inside as well. Dorothy Van Engle was a warm, humble, sincere, generous, down to earth, loving woman.

Dorothy Van Engle's style of acting was loved by Black audiences. Dorothy's style unlike Blacks in Hollywood wasn't stereotypical and offensive. Dorothy often played characters who were go-getters, independent, sure, confident, understanding, generous, always there for her man and her people. Black audiences loved it; they didn't get to see Blacks that way in Hollywood movies. Another thing to point out was Dorothy's precise diction and clarity. Blacks found her speech appealing; they were happy to see a Black talk English and not so called Ebonics, slang, and dialects.

Dorothy Van Engle never took acting classes. Being a movie star probably wasn't her intention but what she did on screen she did naturally and well. She got into movies because to her it was a new adventure. Dorothy never over-acted or under-acted. She became her roles completely and would do what anyone would in certain situations. Most other actors and actresses who took acting classes at the best schools with the best teachers and had many years experience in acting would take many years to learn how to be a natural in movies which Dorothy did easily.

Had Dorothy went to Hollywood would she had been a hit in movies? Dorothy certainly fit the beauty and talent standards. But because of the partiality of Hollywood they wouldn't of positively exploited Dorothy's talents and because of Hollywood's 1 Black star a decade, Dorothy would of been too late, perhaps, Hollywood would of put aside their partiality for the beautiful Dorothy Van Engle, who was as beautiful and more then some of the white actresses and had all they had and than some, but, Dorothy was just as proud being in the independent black films. Most of the actors and actresses in independent black films usually got little or no pay. But the exposure and learning experience in acting and being in front of the camera helped many of their careers. Many who appeared in Oscar Micheaux films either became stars or more popular stars. Dorothy and others received little or nothing but their spot in movie history is secured and priceless.

Dorothy Van Engle was born Donessa Dorothy Van Engle in 1916. She was born and raised in the era of the Harlem Renaissance. Harlem in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s was a black person's heaven and place of opportunity, just as important as Broadway and Hollywood. The temptation of getting into show business and being a star was a hard one to resist. While growing up Dorothy was surrounded by many prominent Black celebrities and soon to be stars. Dorothy lived in the same apartment building as Jack Johnson and Lena Horne, who she was good friends with.

Dorothy Van Engle started out as a clothes and hair model which were featured in newspapers. Dorothy modeled hair styles with her own long hair which at times were at her knees. Dorothy met Oscar Micheaux through her step-father Arvelle "Snoopie" Harris who played saxophone for Cab Calloway's band. On spotting Dorothy Van Engle, Oscar Micheaux knew he saw star quality.

Dorothy was in films from 1934 to 1938. Dorothy started in films at the young age of 17 but Dorothy showed maturity, wisdom and experience in her roles. Dorothy appeared in many of Oscar's most important movies. The best known movies she starred in were "Harlem after Midnight," "Murder in Harlem"(a film with a black and white cast), "Swing," and "God's Stepchildren," these movies are available today. In some of the movies Dorothy helped Micheaux with movie stories and ideas.

In "Murder in Harlem," Dorothy played Claudia Vance, an attractive, intelligent, persisted young lady who encounters an author Henry Glory and befriends him, both are in love with one another but problems escalate that keeps them from being together, like Henry Glory believes Claudia is a call-girl. But it doesn't stop them from working together when Claudia's brother is thrown in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Claudia works alongside Henry (who now is a lawyer), to help clear her brother of all charges against him. Through Claudia's persistence, faith and hope, Claudia helps clear her brother and find the real murderer and Henry finds out he was wrong about Claudia (mistaken identity) when Claudia reads his new book and clears herself. Claudia and Henry finally profess their love for each other and are happily ever after. In "Swing," Dorothy plays Lena, secretary and guardian angel to everyone in a Broadway show, through her hope, encouragement, and confidence she helps the music producer she works for and her good friend Mandy become a star and put over a successful show despite the many obstacles and she wins love. In "God's Stepchildren," Dorothy has a small but very significant part as the strange young woman who leaves her child with Mrs. Saunders, whom she doesn't know but hears, is a good woman. The young woman is afraid of letting her family and friends know of her baby because the baby is possibly half-white and she couldn't bare the troubles that it would cost. The young woman leaves her child and never comes back. Mrs. Saunders treats the baby like her own. The child grows up as Naomi who is very rebellious and causes many problems like she doesn't want to be Black and is in love with her foster brother, she can't persuade him to love her like a boyfriend than Naomi goes after another hopeless goal, she passes for whites but realizes passing didn't help her at all. Naomi ends up abandoning her child like her mother and commits suicide.

Dorothy left her movie career behind to get married to Herbert Hollon, had 2 sons, and retired to the nicer, more pleasant, quieter things in life. Dorothy didn't miss or regret leaving her movie career. Dorothy was an avid reader and worked as a librarian for many years. Dorothy was an accomplished seamstress; all the beautiful dresses and gowns Dorothy wore in the movies was made by her. Dorothy was also one of the best dress women on screen. Dorothy was always known as an impeccable dresser. Being a seamstress was Dorothy's love and took up most her of time. Dorothy was a big fan of Oprah Winfrey and collected almost every magazine Oprah put out. Dorothy's family called her "Shug" because of course she was sweet.

Many people seen Dorothy in the movies and were fans for many years and wondered about her and wanted to meet her. Many didn't know whether she was alive or not until Dorothy passed away on May 10, 2004, in Ocala, Florida at the age of 87. Dorothy's passing and obituary reached all the major newspapers and magazines from L.A. Times, New York Times, and Jet, many showed their appreciation and honor by writing their own tributes about Dorothy. Many who never heard of the name Dorothy Van Engle came across her obituary and was moved by her obituary and interested viewed her films and became a fan all the while wondering why she wasn't applauded as Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge are.

Dorothy lived a life that many stars wish to live. Having a good and important career in movies that will forever keep their name alive in movie history, then retire to have a happy humble life being a wife, mother and doing all the things in life that was pleasing to her like traveling, reading, and sewing. Dorothy had a very full-filled life.

Anyone who sees Dorothy Van Engle is taken by her beauty, elegance, and sophistication and never forgets her. Dorothy ingredients for success was she had the sophistication and classiness like Myrna Loy, the irresistible and coolness like Kay Francis, the sweetness like Ruby Keeler, and with Dorothy's own style and a perfect face you couldn't forget her, put that all together and you had Dorothy Van Engle. While watching Dorothy you can't take your eyes off of her. She's interesting to watch. Dorothy had a pleasing, inviting aura. Dorothy was in a class of her own. She was a part of the golden era of black films. Her place is secure in movie history. To call Dorothy Van Engle just a "black movie star" and "black beauty" is an understatement. Dorothy's beauty and excellence easily stands alongside white actresses such as Kay Francis, Dolores del Rio, Hedy Lamarr, Linda Darnell, and Gene Tierney.

Dorothy Van Engle and other Black women was the real "underground" trailblazer. They were the ones who opened the door for Blacks in movies. They were the ones who made people forget color and look at the talent, even if they had to make their own films to show it. They are the ones who gave Blacks stars to be proud of. In their movies they had real stories, plots, talent, beauty, glamour, class; "real" meaningful roles like whites would play. Enjoyable roles and stories with drama and comedy, some Shakespeare, not the negative, stereotypical roles that had Blacks only coming alive in song and dance, playing demeaning, degrading roles, speaking unclearly, playing the roles of the misfits of life without a purpose (prostitutes, pimps, gamblers,) acting dumb and unwise - many Blacks in Hollywood played these roles over and over. Also, even though it's called "Black Cinema" all the stories didn't evolve around Black life or Black issues. Blacks got a chance to play people from all walks of life and life experiences... movie watchers rarely see this today. The independent Black films had low budget movies but they worked well with the little they had. Despite some minor flaws and less extravagance it can be overlooked. Actors and actresses in Black Cinema gave their all and their talent could take your mind off of the flaws and less extravagance. The Black community was really proud of the stars in independent films just as much as Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge in Hollywood but just because Dorothy Van Engle and others didn't appear in Hollywood films and cross over their not looked at by some as important in movie history. Dorothy among others should be remembered as equally important. Many are seeing that Dorothy Van Engle, Nina Mae McKinney, Fredi Washington, Francine Everett, Edna Mae Harris, Sheila Guyse and others were profound actresses by creating images that the black community could enjoy and be proud of. They paved the way by giving positive movie stars for their time, history and future and Dorothy and others are starting to get recognition and their stories are being told. The independent films were for Black audiences but now all are seeing these films and seeing the real talents and door-openers. Dorothy's contribution to Black movies and Movie History is known and growing becoming widely known and appreciated. Black Cinema was in the 1930's and 1940's a great outlet for Blacks. Blacks who wanted to act flock to Black Cinema, many Legends we know got their start in Black Cinema. Today Blacks who do make movies are degrading their own. Black Cinema of the early years uplifted.

Dorothy didn't know she had a following of fans that loved and appreciated her. Since her passing, her fan numbers have grown.

Dorothy still lives in the wonderful films she appeared in for us to enjoy and from them anyone who sees her has much pride, elegance and beauty to gain and learn about.

Some say Lena Horne was the first "lady" of the screen. Dorothy Van Engle was a few steps ahead of her; Dorothy was the first classy, elegant Black woman on screen.

Rest in Peace Sweet Dorothy.
I've been a fan of Dorothy Van Engle for years. I loved her from the first time I seen her. Dorothy inspired me to explore black independent films, she help me to see the real talents of many forgotten, overlooked unsung Legends. Many talented Blacks are forgotten just because they either didn't crossover or didn't appear in Hollywood films or groomed for stardom by whites, many chose and preferred to be an attraction with Blacks. Many Blacks who are remembered really didn't do anything for Blacks or Black History. It shouldn't be called Black History if Blacks are only remembering people who appealed to whites instead of remembering and honoring ones who were big stars in the black community, ones who really tried to help Blacks get further in stage and screen, ones who provided and were good role models, Blacks who felt their own people were good enough for them, instead Blacks seem to be letting whites say who should be Legends and remembered. Is a Black person success based on whether they have an white audience or work with whites, if they don't their not considered important enough or not big enough star to be remembered? Is Black History ruined because of this. Dorothy Van Engle had roles and created an image which no Black in Hollywood ever got to do. Her achievement of creating and becoming a profound, positive screen image should be remembered as a stepping stone for Black actress. Many should watch Dorothy Van Engle today but how can they if Black Cinema isn't known widely? Many are working to fix that though. Why is Black Cinema so forgotten and not mention, if anything Black Cinema should be remembered, it's a huge part of Black History and corrects alot of incorrectness of Black History.

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