Marpessa Dawn

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Marpessa Dawn
Born(1934-01-03)January 3, 1934
DiedAugust 25, 2008(2008-08-25) (aged 74)
Other namesGypsy Marpessa Dawn Menor
OccupationActress, singer, dancer

Marpessa Dawn (January 3, 1934 – August 25, 2008), also known as Gypsy Marpessa Dawn Menor, was an African-American born French actress, as well as a singer and dancer. She is best remembered for her role in the film Black Orpheus (1959).


The tomb of Marpessa Dawn in Père Lachaise Cemetery

Born on a farm near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, of African-American and Filipino heritage,[1] she worked as a laboratory technician in New York before migrating to Europe as a teenager.[2]

She began acting in England, with some minor TV roles. Then, in 1953, she relocated to France and while occasionally working as a governess also sang and danced in nightclubs, where she met director Marcel Camus. At the age of 24 she won the role of "Eurydice" in his film Black Orpheus.[3] The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival[4] and the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[5] She married Camus, but divorced him soon after and married Belgian actor Eric Vander. Considered a great beauty,[6] she was featured in November 1959 by Ebony and has been hailed as "one of Ebony magazine's prettiest cover girls, along with the likes of Dorothy Dandridge, Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams and Lena Horne".[7]

Dawn remained in Europe, working in French films and television. She also had several theatrical parts, including a starring role in Chérie Noire, a highly successful stage comedy which played for seven years, touring France, Belgium, Switzerland, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco,[8] and Le Jardin des délices (The Garden of Delights), by Fernando Arrabal, with Delphine Seyrig, 1969. Her subsequent career, however, was much less successful. She appeared in a 2005 documentary about Vinicius de Moraes, who wrote the original play from which Black Orpheus was adapted. She and her fellow lead from that film, Brazilian actor Breno Mello, died just 42 days apart in 2008, both from heart attacks. She was 74 years old at the time of her death in Paris and left five children and four grandchildren.[9]


Year Title Role Notes
1957 Élisa La négresse
1958 The Woman Eater Native Sacrifice Girl
1959 Black Orpheus Eurydice
1961 El secreto de los hombres azules Malika
1963 Canzoni nel mondo Herself
1966 Au théâtre ce soir French theater Episode: "Cherie Noire"
1970 Le Bal du Comte d'Orgel Marie
1971 Traîté du rossignol La femme du train
1973 Bel ordure La prostituée aux jouets
1974 Sweet Movie Mama Communa
1995 Sept En Attente (final film role)


  1. ^ Dean, Loomis, "America's Dawn Comes Up in France", Life, March 14, 1960, p. 57.
  2. ^ Ebony 15, November 1959, p. 85.
  3. ^ Jane Margaret Laight, IMDb Mini Biography.
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Black Orpheus".
  5. ^ "The 32nd Academy Awards (1960) Nominees and Winners".
  6. ^ Tia Williams, "Great Beauty - Vintage Vamp: 'Black Orpheus' Star Marpessa Dawn", Essence, August 21, 2011.
  7. ^ Behn Cervantes, "Filipino blood ran in Marpessa Dawn’s multiracial roots" Archived April 7, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 04/09/2010. In fact, Dawn was not featured on Ebony′s cover, but on pages 85-90 of the November 1959 issue.
  8. ^ Dennis Hevesi, "Marpessa Dawn, Eurydice in the Film ‘Black Orpheus,’ Dies at 74", The New York Times, September 26, 2008.
  9. ^ Frank Gray, obituary of Marpessa Dawn and Breno Mello, The Guardian, 29 October 2008.

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