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Pioneering actress Diahann Carroll dies, aged 84

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(4 Oct 2019) Diahann Carroll, the Oscar-nominated actress and singer who won critical acclaim as the first black woman to star in a non-servant role in a TV series, has died. She was 84.
Carroll’s daughter told The Associated Press her mother died of cancer in Los Angeles on Friday.
During her long career, Carroll earned a Tony Award for the musical “No Strings” and an Academy Award nomination for best actress for “Claudine”.
But she was perhaps best known for her pioneering work on “Julia”.
She played Julia Baker, a nurse whose husband had been killed in Vietnam, in the groundbreaking situation comedy that aired from 1968 to 1971.
Although she was not the first black woman to star in her own TV show (Ethel Waters played a maid in the 1950s series “Beulah”), she was the first to star as someone other than a servant.
NBC executives were wary about putting “Julia” on the network during the racial unrest of the 1960s, but it was an immediate hit.
It had its critics, though, including some who said Carroll’s character, who is the mother of a young son, was not a realistic portrayal of a black American woman in the 1960s.
Not shy when it came to confronting racial barriers, Carroll won her Tony portraying a high-fashion American model in Paris who has a love affair with a white American author in the 1959 Richard Rodgers musical “No Strings”.
She appeared often in plays previously considered exclusive territory for white actresses: “Same Time, Next Year,” ”Agnes of God” and “Sunset Boulevard” (as faded star Norma Desmond, the role played by Gloria Swanson in the 1950 film).
Her film career was sporadic.
She began with a secondary role in “Carmen Jones” in 1954 and five years later appeared in “Porgy and Bess”, although her singing voice was dubbed because it wasn’t considered strong enough for the Gershwin opera.
Her other films included “Goodbye Again,” ”Hurry Sundown,” ”Paris Blues,” and “The Split”.
The 1974 film “Claudine” provided her most memorable role.
She played a hard-bitten single mother of six who finds romance in Harlem with a garbage man played by James Earl Jones.
She would end up being nominated for her Oscar, and she recalled the filming a magical experience.
In the 1980s, Carroll joined in the long-running prime-time soap opera “Dynasty” as Dominique Deveraux, the glamorous half-sister of Blake Carrington; her physical battles with Alexis Carrington, played by Joan Collins, were among fan highlights.
Another memorable role was Marion Gilbert, as the haughty mother of Whitley Gilbert on the TV series “A Different World”.
More recently, she had a number of guest slots and small roles in TV series, including playing the mother of Isaiah Washington’s character, Dr. Preston Burke, on “Grey’s Anatomy” and a stretch on the TV show “White Collar” as the widow June.
She also returned to her roots in nightclubs.
In 2006, she made her first club appearance in New York in four decades, singing at Feinstein’s at the Regency.
She began her career as a model in a segregated industry; she got much of her work due to publications like the black magazine Ebony.
A prize from “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” TV show led to nightclub engagements.
In her 1998 memoir “Diahann”, Carroll traced her turbulent romantic life, which included liaisons with Harry Belafonte, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Sidney Poitier and David Frost.
She even became engaged to Frost, but the engagement was canceled.

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