Dorothy Dandridge’s daughter Harolyn Nicholas
Harolyn Suzanne Nicholas was born to actress Dorothy Dandridge and her husband dancer Harold Nicholas (of the Nicholas Brothers) on September 2, 1943. Harold was inattentive of Dorothy and when she was in labor he dropped her off at her sister-in-law’s home while he went out to play golf. Dorothy wanted to wait until he returned before they went to the hospital but when the pains became too intense they left without out him. They had to take a neighbor’s car since Harold took their car.
Dorothy’s delivery was strenuous and Harolyn was born with brain damage called
cerebral anoxia, possibly due to her delayed birth or the use of forceps during her birth. At first she didn’t think anything was wrong with Harolyn, but at the age of two she was still not speaking. Dorothy took her to a doctor who confirmed that she was mentally disabled. The doctor advised Dorothy to give Harolyn up and have another child but she refused.
While dealing with this Harold was largely absent and having affairs throughout their relationship. By 1948 he had abandoned his family, so Dorothy finally filed for divorce after 8 years of marriage in 1950. Since Harold refused to financially contribute, Dorothy raised her daughter as a single parent.
Harolyn’s disability required constant care and expenses took it’s toll after Dorothy’s divorce from Jack Denison in 1962 left her in debt. Dorothy filed for bankruptcy. She was forced to sell her Hollywood home and place her daughter in a state mental institution in
Camarillo, California. Dorothy avoided speaking publicly about her daughter until 1963 when she appeared on Cleveland’s The Mike Douglas Show. She was praised for bringing awareness to mental retardation and her moving segment was shown throughout the country.
“I never really thought I could give my daughter up to an institution. I guess the longest period of time that I have been away from her was about six months. Actually, she has no conception of time. She doesn’t know how long I’ve been away. She doesn’t even know I’m her mother. She only knows that she likes me and I like her, and she feels warmth and that I’m a nice person.”
Dorothy died at the age of 42 from an embolism on September 8, 1965. Harolyn remained in the state’s care. No word on whether any family member ever visited her. According to some online sources she died in 2003, but there are no reports about her death. Allegedly no one claimed her body.