Jul. 17th, 1935
The Bronx, New York, USA
Diahann Carroll's Main TV Roles
Main Movie Roles1991 - The Five Heartbeats
1968 - The Split
1961 - Paris Blues
1959 - Porgy and Bess
One of television's premiere African-American series stars, elegant actress, singer and recording artist Diahann Carroll was born Carol Diann (or Diahann) Johnson on July 17, 1935, in the Bronx, New York. The first child of John Johnson, a subway conductor, and Mabel Faulk Johnson, music was an important part of her life as a child, singing at age 6 with her Harlem church choir. While taking voice and piano lessons, she contemplated an operatic career after becoming the 10-year-old recipient of a Metropolitan Opera scholarship for studies at New York's High School of Music and Art. As a teenager she sought modeling work but it was her voice, in addition to her beauty, that provided the magic and the allure.
When she was 16, she teamed up with a girlfriend from school and auditioned for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show using the more exotic sounding name of Diahann Carroll. She alone was invited to appear and won the contest. She subsequently performed on the daily radio show for three weeks. In her late teens, she began focusing on a nightclub career and it was here that she began formulating a chic, glamorous image. Another TV talent show appearance earned her a week's engagement at the Latin Quarter.
Broadway roles for black singers were rare but at age 19, Diahann was cast in the Harold Arlen/Truman Capote musical "House of Flowers". Starring the indomitable Pearl Bailey, Diahann held her own quite nicely in the ingénue role. While the show itself was poorly received, the score was heralded and Diahann managed to introduce two song standards, "A Sleepin' Bee" and "I Never Has Seen Snow", both later recorded by Barbra Streisand.
In 1954 she and Ms. Bailey supported a riveting Dorothy Dandridge as femme fatale Carmen Jones (1954) in an all-black, updated movie version of the Georges Bizet opera "Carmen." Diahann later supported Ms. Dandridge again in Otto Preminger's cinematic retelling of Porgy and Bess (1959). During this time she also grew into a singing personality on TV while visiting such late-nite hosts as Jack Paar (I) and Steve Allen (I) and performing.
Unable to break through into the top ranks in film (she appeared in a secondary role once again in Paris Blues (1961), a Paul Newman (I)/Joanne Woodward (I) vehicle), Diahann returned to Broadway. She was rewarded with a Tony Award for her exceptional performance as a fashion model in the 1962 musical "No Strings," a bold, interracial love story that co-starred Richard Kiley. Richard Rodgers (I), whose first musical this was after the death of partner Oscar Hammerstein, wrote the part specifically for Diahann, which included her lovely rendition of the song standard "The Sweetest Sounds." By this time she had already begun to record albums ("Diahann Carroll Sings Harold Arlen" (1957), "Diahann Carroll and Andre Previn" (1960), "The Fabulous Diahann Carroll" (1962). Nightclub entertaining filled up a bulk of her time during the early-to-mid 1960s, along with TV guest appearances on Carol Burnett, Judy Garland (I), Andy Williams (I), Dean Martin (I) and Danny Kaye's musical variety shows.
Little did Diahann know that in the late 1960s she would break a major ethnic barrier on the small screen. Though it was nearly impossible to suppress the natural glamour and sophistication of Diahann, she touchingly portrayed an ordinary nurse and widow struggling to raise a small son in the series "Julia" (1968). Despite other Black American actresses starring in a TV series (i.e., Hattie McDaniel in "Beulah"), Diahann became the first full-fledged African-American female "star" -- top billed, in which the show centered around her lead character. The show gradually rose in ratings and Diahann won a Golden Globe award for "Best Newcomer" and an Emmy nomination. The show lasted only two seasons, at her request.
A renewed interest in film led Diahann to the dressed-down title role of Claudine (1974), as a Harlem woman raising six children on her own. She was nominated for an Oscar in 1975, but her acting career would become more and more erratic after this period. She did return, however, to the stage with productions of "Same Time, Next Year" and "Agnes of God". While much ado was made about her return to series work as a fashionplate nemesis to Joan Collins' ultra-vixen character on the glitzy primetime soap "Dynasty" (1981), it became much about nothing as the juicy pairing failed to ignite. Diahann's character was also a part of the short-lived "Dynasty" spin-off "The Colbys" (1985).
Throughout the late 1980s and early 90s she toured with her fourth husband, singer Vic Damone, with occasional acting appearances to fill in the gaps. Some of her finest work came with TV-movies, notably her century-old Sadie Delany in Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (1999) (TV) and as troubled singer Natalie Cole (I)'s mother in Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story (2000) (TV). She also portrayed silent screen diva Norma Desmond in the musical version of "Sunset Blvd." and toured America performing classic Broadway standards in the concert show "Almost Like Being in Love: The Lerner and Loewe Songbook." Most recently she had a recurring role on "Grey's Anatomy" (2005).
- In 1959, while appearing as Clara in _Porgy and Bess (1959)_ (qv), she fell in love with the film's star 'Sidney Poitier' (qv). Both were married, however, and the affair ended. The two reconnected with the filming of the movie _Paris Blues (1961)_ (qv) and this time she divorced her first husband. She eventually became engaged to Poitier, only to break off the relationship several months later.
- While Diahann was performing in 1954's "House of Flowers" on Broadway, she became involved with the show's casting director, Monte Kay, who then became her first husband in September of 1956.
- She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 7005 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
- Won a Tony for "No Strings".
- Once enrolled at New York University, where she intended to study psychology, in honor of her parents' wishes that she complete her education. She lasted one term; her passion for a career in singing won out.
- She and actor 'Billy Dee Williams' (qv) were high school classmates at The New York City High School of the Performing Arts, the school that was featured on the popular TV series _"Fame" (1982)_ (qv).
- Her third union to Robert DeLeon, the 24-year-old managing editor of Jet magazine, after only meeting three months earlier, grew contentious early in the game. DeLeon began to drink heavily and run up debts, and the marriage ended abruptly when he was killed in a 1977 car accident.
- Won Broadway's 1962 Tony Award as Best Actress (Musical) for "No Strings," in a tie with 'Anna Maria Alberghetti' (qv) for "Carnival."