Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Late Great Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll, who appeared in such films as Carmen Jones (1954), and Porgy and Bess (1959) and starred on such TV shows as Julia, Dynasty, and White Collar, died on October 4 2019 at the age of 84. The cause was complications from breast cancer.

Diahann Carroll was born Carol Diahann Johnson in the Bronx on July 17 1935. She grew up in Harlem. She took to singing while still very young, and she was singing at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem by the time she was six years old. She attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, during which time she worked as a model for Ebony magazine. She entered various television talent contests, including Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and Chance of a Lifetime. She won Chance of a Lifetime three weeks in a row. The prize was $1000 and appearing at the Latin Quarter, a nightclub in Manhattan. As her family wished for her to attend college Miss Carroll attended New York University, but left college to pursue a career in show business. She had promised her family that if it did not work out in two years she would return to college. Fortunately, she did not have to.

It was in 1954 that Diahann Carroll made her film debut in Carmen Jones (1954). It was the same year that she made her debut on Broadway in House of Flowers. Later in the decade she appeared in the film Porgy and Bess (1959). Miss Carroll made her television debut the following year in an episode of General Electric Theatre. She later guest starred on Peter Gunn and appeared in the television movie The Man in the Moon.

In the Sixties she appeared on Broadway in No Strings, for which she won Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. She also appeared in the films Goodbye Again (1961), Paris Blues (1961), Hurry Sundown (1967), and The Split (1968). On television she appeared in the groundbreaking sitcom Julia. Diahann Carroll was the first African American woman to star on a sitcom not playing a domestic worker. While Julia proved popular with viewers, there were those who criticised the show for ignoring the realities faced by many African Americans at the time. That having been said, the November 1968 issue of Ebony took a more positive view of the series in the article "Diahanne Carroll Stars in Family TV Series." The article stated, "As a slice of Black Americana, Julia does not explode on the TV screen with the impact of a ghetto riot. It is not that kind of show. Since the networks have had a rash of shows dealing with the nation's racial problems, the light-hearted Julia provides welcome relief, if indeed, relief is even acceptable in these troubled times." In 1969 she was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series.

During the Sixties, Diahann Carroll also guest starred on episodes of Naked City and The Eleventh Hour. For her guest appearance on Naked City she was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

In the Seventies Diahann Carroll appeared in the film Claudine (1974), for which she for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She appeared on television in The Star Wars Holiday Special and the mini-series Roots: The Next Generations. She also appeared in the TV movies Death Scream and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

In the Eighties Diahann Carroll appeared on Broadway as a replacement in the role of Doctor Martha Livingstone in the play Agnes of God. On television she starred as Dominique Deveraux on the night time soap opera Dynasty, a role she also played on the spin-off The Colbys. She also had a recurring role on the sitcom A Different World. She appeared in the TV movies Sister, Sister in 1982, From the Dead of Night in 1989, and Murder in Black and White in 1990.

In the Nineties Miss Carroll appeared in the films The Five Heartbeats (1991) and Eve's Bayou (1997). She had a recurring role on the TV show Lonesome Dove: The Series. She guest starred on the shows The Sinbad Show, Burke's Law, Evening Shade, ABC Weekend Specials, Touched by an Angel, and Twice in a Lifetime. She appeared in the TV movies A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle, The Sweetest Gift, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, The Courage to Love, Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, and Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story. She was a guest voice on the HBO animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. She played herself in the television mockumentary Jackie's Back!.

In the Naughts Diahann Carroll had recurring roles on the TV shows Grey's Anatomy, Diary of a Single Mom, and White Collar. She guest starred on the shows The Court, Half & Half, Strong Medicine, Whoopi, Soul Food, and Back to You. In the Teens she continued to appear on White Collar. She appeared in the movies Peeples (2013) and The Masked Saint (2016).

Diahann Carroll also had a successful career as a singer. She performed in nightclubs and in Las Vegas. Starting with the late Fifties she recorded several albums, including Diahann Carroll Sings Harold Arlen Songs (1957), Fun Life (1960), Diahann Carroll (1974), and The Time of My Life (1997).

I have to confess that I have had a crush on Diahann Carroll since childhood. She was just so beautiful and elegant, and she had a mellifluous voice. Of course, as I grew older I realised that she was remarkable not only for her beauty and grace, but for the fact that she was just so very talented. As an actress she was very versatile and played a wide variety of roles in her career. In her guest appearance on Naked City in the episode "A Horse Has a Big Head – Let Him Worry!", she played a teacher trying to convince a boy's parents that he could learn to live with his limited eyesight. On Julia she played the title character, a hard working and sweet natured nurse. On White Collar she played the protagonist Neal Caffrey's landlady, the widow of a con man with considerable skills herself. Miss Carroll's talent was on display in movies as well. In Claudine she played the title character, a single mother on welfare living in Harlem. In Eve's Bayou (1997) she played the fortune teller Elzora. Diahann Carroll was capable of playing a wide variety of roles and did so throughout her career.

Of course, Miss Carroll was also an incredibly talented singer. She had a beautiful voice with an incredible range. Indeed, even had she never gone into acting she would have had a very profitable career as a singer.

Diahann Carroll's was a true pioneer with regards to African American actresses. She appeared in major motion pictures and made guest appearances on television shows in non-stereotypical roles at a time when black women were rarely seen in movies or TV shows as anything except domestics. While Julia received criticism for not addressing issues, it was a groundbreaking show. Before Julia the only show to feature a black woman in the lead was Beulah, a sitcom featuring a very stereotypical maid. Julia paved the way for every African American lead on a sitcom ever since. Diahann Carroll was a remarkable woman and one for whom the word "legend" is truly fitting.

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