Oscar Actors: Carroll, Diahann–Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage; Tony, Emmy)

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Diahann Carroll (born Carol Diann Johnson; July 17, 1935 – October 4, 2019) was an American actress, singer, model, and activist.

She rose to prominence in some of the earliest major studio films to feature black casts, including Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1959). In 1962, Carroll won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, a first for an African American woman, for her role in the Broadway musical No Strings.

In 1974 she starred in Claudine alongside James Earl Jones for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar.

Her title role in Julia, for which she received the 1968 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress In a Television Series, was the first series on American television to star a black woman in a non-stereotypical role,[1] was a milestone both in her career and the medium. In the 1980s, she played the role of Dominique Deveraux, a mixed-race diva, in the prime time soap opera Dynasty. Carroll was the recipient of numerous stage and screen nominations and awards, including her Tony Award in 1962, Golden Globe Award in 1968 and five Emmy Award nominations.

She died on October 4, 2019 after a battle with breast cancer.

Carol Diahann Johnson was born in the Bronx, New York City, on July 17, 1935,[3] to John Johnson, a subway conductor, and Mabel (Faulk),[4] a nurse.

[5][6]:152 While Carroll was still an infant, the family moved to Harlem, where she grew up.[7][6]:152 She attended Music and Art High School,[8][3][7] and was a classmate of Billy Dee Williams. In many interviews about her childhood, Carroll recalls her parents’ support, and their enrolling her in dance, singing, and modeling classes. By the time Carroll was 15, she was modeling for Ebony.[5][8] “She also began entering television contests, including Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, under the name Diahann Carroll.”[5][3][6]:152 After graduating from high school, she attended New York University,[3] where she majored in sociology,[6]:152 “but she left before graduating to pursue a show-business career, promising her family that if the career did not materialize after two years, she would return to college.”[5]

Carroll’s big break came at age 18, when she appeared as a contestant on the DuMont Television Network program, Chance of a Lifetime, hosted by Dennis James.[5][7][6]:152 On the show, which aired January 8, 1954, she took the $1,000 top prize for a rendition of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein song, “Why Was I Born?” She went on to win the following four weeks. Engagements at Manhattan’s Café Society and Latin Quarter nightclubs soon followed.[9]

Carroll’s film debut was a supporting role in Carmen Jones (1954),[5][8][3] as a friend to the sultry lead character played by Dorothy Dandridge. That same year, she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in the Broadway musical, House of Flowers.[5][3] A few years later, she played Clara in the film version of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1959), but her character’s singing parts were dubbed by opera singer Loulie Jean Norman.[5][8][3] The following year, Carroll made a guest appearance in the series Peter Gunn, in the episode “Sing a Song of Murder” (1960). In the next two years, she starred with Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward in the film Paris Blues (1961)[5] and won the 1962 Tony Award for best actress (the first time for a Black woman) for portraying Barbara Woodruff in the Samuel A. Taylor and Richard Rodgers musical No Strings.[1][5][8][3] Twelve years later, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role alongside James Earl Jones in the film Claudine (1974),[1][5][8][3] which part had been written specifically for actress Diana Sands (who had made guest appearances on Julia as Carroll’s cousin Sara), but shortly before filming was to begin, Sands learned she was terminally ill with cancer. Sands attempted to carry on with the role, but as filming began, she became too ill to continue and recommended her friend Carroll take over the role.[8] Sands died in September 1973, before the film’s release in April 1974.[8]

Carroll and Sammy Davis Jr. on The Hollywood Palace, 1968
Carroll is known for her titular role in the television series Julia (1968),[5][3][6]:141–151 which made her the first African-American actress to star in her own television series who did not play a domestic worker.[1][8] That role won her the Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress In A Television Series” for its year,[3][10] and a nomination for an Emmy Award in 1969.[3] Some of Carroll’s earlier work also included appearances on shows hosted by Johnny Carson, Judy Garland, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar, and Ed Sullivan, and on The Hollywood Palace variety show. In 1984, Carroll joined the nighttime soap opera Dynasty as the mixed-race jet set diva Dominique Deveraux,[5] Blake Carrington’s half-sister.[8] Her high-profile role on Dynasty also reunited her with her schoolmate Billy Dee Williams, who briefly played her onscreen husband Brady Lloyd. Carroll remained on the show until 1987, simultaneously making several appearances on its short-lived spin-off, The Colbys. She received her third Emmy nomination in 1989 for the recurring role of Marion Gilbert in A Different World.[8]

Carroll portrayed Eleanor Potter, the doting, concerned, and protective wife of Jimmy Potter (portrayed by Chuck Patterson), in The Five Heartbeats (1991),[3] a musical drama film also featuring actor and musician Robert Townsend, and Michael Wright. In a 1995 reunion with Billy Dee Williams in Lonesome Dove: The Series, she played Mrs. Greyson, the wife of Williams’ character. In 1996, Carroll starred as the self-loving and deluded silent movie star Norma Desmond in the Canadian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of the film Sunset Boulevard. In 2001, Carroll made her animation début in The Legend of Tarzan,[11] in which she voiced Queen La,[12] ruler of the ancient city of Opar.[13]

In 2006, Carroll appeared in the television medical drama Grey’s Anatomy as Jane Burke, the demanding mother of Dr. Preston Burke. From December 2008, she appeared in USA Network’s series White Collar as June, the savvy widow who rents out her guest room to Neal Caffrey.[14] In 2010, Carroll was featured in UniGlobe Entertainment’s breast cancer docudrama titled 1 a Minute, and she appeared as Nana in two Lifetime movie adaptations of Patricia Cornwell novels: At Risk and The Front.[15]

In 2013, Carroll was present on stage for the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, to briefly speak about being the first African-American nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. She was quoted as saying about Kerry Washington, nominated for Scandal, “she better get this award.”[16]

Personal life
Carroll was married four times. Her father boycotted the ceremony for her first wedding, in 1956, to record producer Monte Kay,[5][8] which was presided over by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. The marriage ended in 1962.[17] Carroll gave birth to her daughter, Suzanne Kay Bamford (born September 9, 1960), who became a journalist and screenwriter.[5][18][19]

In 1959, Carroll began a nine-year affair with the married actor Sidney Poitier.[5][7] In her autobiography, Carroll said Poitier persuaded her to divorce her husband and said he would leave his wife to be with her. While she proceeded with her divorce, Poitier did not keep his part of the bargain.[20] Eventually he divorced his wife. According to Poitier, their relationship ended because he wanted to live with Carroll for six months without her daughter present so he would not be “jumping from one marriage straight into another.” She refused.[21]

Carroll dated and was engaged to British television host and producer David Frost from 1970 until 1973.[5][7] In 1973, Carroll surprised the press by marrying Las Vegas boutique owner Fred Glusman.[5][8] After four months of marriage Glusman filed for divorce in June 1973. Carroll filed a response, but did not contest the divorce, which was finalized two months later.[7][22] Glusman was reportedly physically abusive.[23]

On May 25, 1975, Carroll then age 39, married Robert DeLeon, the 24-year old managing editor of Jet magazine.[5][8] They met when DeLeon assigned himself to a cover story on Carroll about her 1975 Oscar nomination for Claudine.[24] DeLeon had a child from a previous marriage. Carroll moved to Chicago where Jet was headquartered, but DeLeon soon quit his job so the couple relocated to Oakland.[24] Carroll was widowed two years later when DeLeon was killed in a car crash.[7][25][26] Carroll’s fourth marriage was to singer Vic Damone in 1987.[5][8] The union, which Carroll admitted was turbulent, had a legal separation in 1991, reconciliation, and divorce in 1996.[7][27][28]

Charitable work
Carroll was a founding member of the Celebrity Action Council, a volunteer group of celebrity women who served the women’s outreach of the Los Angeles Mission, working with women in rehabilitation from problems with alcohol, drugs, or prostitution. She helped to form the group along with other female television personalities including Mary Frann, Linda Gray, Donna Mills, and Joan Van Ark.[29]

Illness, death, and memorial
Carroll was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997.[30] She said the diagnosis “stunned” her, because there was no family history of breast cancer, and she had always led a healthy lifestyle. She underwent nine weeks of radiation therapy and had been clear for years after the diagnosis. She frequently spoke of the need for early detection and prevention of the disease.[8][31] She died on October 4, 2019, in Los Angeles, aged 84.

Carroll was saluted in a star studded memorial on November 24, 2019 at the Helen Hayes Theater in New York City where she was lauded for her trailblazing work in entertainment. Among those paying tribute were Laurence Fishburne, Phylicia Rashad, Vanessa Williams, Lynn Whitfield, Judith Jamison, Valerie Simpson, Lenny Kravitz, Angela Bassett, Cicely Tyson and Jasmine Guy.


1954 Carmen Jones Myrt [3][5][8]
1959 Porgy and Bess Clara [3][5][8]
1961 Goodbye Again Night Club Singer [8]
Paris Blues Connie Lampson [8]
1967 Hurry Sundown Vivian Turlow [5][8][7]
1968 The Split Ellen “Ellie” Kennedy [5][8]
1974 Claudine Claudine [1][5][8][3]
1990 Mo’ Better Blues Jazz Club Singer Uncredited
1991 The Five Heartbeats Eleanor Potter [7][11]
1992 Color Adjustment Herself [34][35]
1997 Eve’s Bayou Elzora [11]
2007 RiffTrax: The Star Wars Holiday Special Mermeia
2013 Tyler Perry Presents Peeples Nana Peeples [36][37]
2016 The Masked Saint Ms. Edna (final film role)[11]
Year Title Role Notes Ref
1954 Chance of a Lifetime Herself Four consecutive weeks as a contestant [5][7]
1954 The Red Skelton Hour Herself 1 episode [7]
1955 General Electric Theater Anna Episode: “Winner by Decision” [7]
1957–61 The Jack Paar Tonight Show Herself 28 episodes [7][6]:152
1957–68 The Ed Sullivan Show Herself 9 episodes [7]
1959–62 The Garry Moore Show Herself 8 episodes [38]:173–177
1960 Peter Gunn Dina Wright Episode: “Sing a Song of Murder” [7][6]:152
1960 The Man in the Moon TV movie [7][11]
1962 What’s My Line? Mystery Guest Episode: Diahann Carroll [7][39]
1962 Naked City Ruby Jay Episode: “A Horse Has a Big Head!” [7][6]:152
1963 The Eleventh Hour Stella Young Episode: “And God Created Vanity” [7][6]:152[11]
1963–75 The Merv Griffin Show Herself 2 episodes [7]
1964 The Judy Garland Show Herself Episode 21 [7][6]:152
1964–69 The Hollywood Palace Herself 10 episodes [7]
1967–71 The Carol Burnett Show Herself 2 episodes [38]:25,31
1968–71 Julia Julia Baker 86 episodes [5][3][1][8]
1972–86 The Dick Cavett Show Herself 3 episodes [40][41][42]
1972 The New Bill Cosby Show Herself 1 episode [43]
1975 Death Scream Betty May TV movie [7]
1976 The Diahann Carroll Show Herself 4 episodes [6]:154
1977 The Love Boat Roxy Blue Episode: “Isaac the Groupie” [7][11]
1977–78 Hollywood Squares Herself 11 episodes [7]
1978 Star Wars Holiday Special Mermeia Holographic Christmas Special [7]
1979 Roots: The Next Generations Zeona Haley Episode: Part VI (1939-1950) [5][7][6]:154
1979 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Vivian TV movie [5][7][6]:154
1982 Sister, Sister Carolyne Lovejoy TV movie [3][7][6]:154
1984–87 Dynasty Dominique Deveraux 74 episodes [3][19]
1985–86 The Colbys Dominique Deveraux 7 episodes [3][19]
1989 From the Dead of Night Maggie Television Movie [7][6]:156
1989–93 A Different World Marion Gilbert 9 episodes [5][3]
1990 Murder in Black and White Margo Stover Television Movie [7][6]:156
1991 Sunday in Paris Vernetta Chase TV short [7]
1993 The Sinbad Show Mrs. Winters Episode: “My Daughter’s Keeper” [7]
1994 Burke’s Law Grace Gibson Episode: “Who Killed the Beauty Queen?” [7]
1994 Evening Shade Ginger Episode: “The Perfect Woman” [7]
1994–95 Lonesome Dove: The Series Ida Grayson 7 episodes [3][7]
1994 A Perry Mason Mystery:
The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle Lydia Bishop TV Movie [7]
1995 Touched by an Angel Grace Willis Episode: “The Driver” [7]
1998 The Sweetest Gift Mrs. Wilson TV Movie [7]
1999 Having Our Say:
The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years Sadie Delany TV movie [5][7][6]:156
1999 Jackie’s Back Herself TV movie [7]
1999 Twice in a Lifetime Jael 2 episodes [7]
2000 The Courage to Love Pouponne TV movie [7]
2000 Sally Hemings: An American Scandal Betty Hemings Miniseries [7][6]:156
2000 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Crow Episode: “Aesop’s Fables: A Whodunit Musical” [44]
2000 Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story Maria Cole TV movie [7]
2001 The Legend of Tarzan Queen La Voice, 3 episodes [11][12]
2002 The Court Justice DeSett 6 episodes [7]
2002 Half & Half Grandma Ruth Thorne Episode: “The Big Thanks for Forgiving Episode” [7]
2003 Strong Medicine Eve Morton Episode: “Love and Let Die” [7]
2003–04 Soul Food Aunt Ruthie 2 episodes [11][7]
2004 Whoopi Viveca Rae Episode: “Mother’s Little Helper” [7]
2006–07 Grey’s Anatomy Jane Burke 5 episodes [5][8][3][19]
2008 Back to You Sandra Jenkins Episode: “Hug & Tell” [7]
2008 Over the River…Life of Lydia Maria Child,
Abolitionist for Freedom Narrator Documentary [7][45]
2009–14 White Collar June Ellington 25 episodes [5][8][3][19]
2010 At Risk Nana TV movie [46]
2010 The Front Nana TV movie [46]
2010 Diahann Carroll:
The Lady. The Music. The Legend Herself Filmed live in concert in Palm Springs, California [47]
2010–11 Diary of a Single Mom Therapist 7 episodes [3]
Year Title Role Venue Ref.
1954 House of Flowers Ottillie (alias Violet) Alvin Theatre, Broadway [7]
1962 No Strings Barbara Woodroff 54th Street Theatre, Broadway [7]
1977 Same Time, Next Year Doris Huntington Hartford Theatre [8]
1979 Black Broadway Performer Benefit concert
1983 Agnes of God Dr. Martha Livingstone Music Box Theatre, Broadway [8][3][7][48]
1990 Love Letters Melissa Gardner Los Angeles Production [49]
1995 Sunset Boulevard Norma Desmond Ford Centre, Toronto [5][8][3][7]
1999 The Vagina Monologues Performer Westside Theatre, Off-Broadway
2004 Bubbling Brown Sugar Performer Theater of the Stars, Atlanta [7]
2004 On Golden Pond Ethel Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. [48][50][51]
2007 Both Sides Now Performer Feinstein’s at the Regency, New York