In honor of TCM and their “Summer Under the Stars” series, we launch our companion series, Summer Madness. The series will spotlight the achievements and films of one Black actor, daily throughout the month of August.
Diahann Carroll (born Carol Diahann Johnson, July 17, 1935) is a television, film, and stage actress and singer. After appearing in some of the earliest major studio films to feature black casts, such as Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1959) and on Broadway, she starred in Julia (1968), one of the first series on American television to star a black woman in a nonstereotypical role. Later, she played the role of Dominique Deveraux on the popular primetime soap opera, Dynasty. She is the recipient of numerous stage and screen awards and nominations. Carroll has been married four times and became the mother of a daughter in 1960. She is a breast cancer survivor and activist. Carroll was scheduled to return to the Broadway stage in the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun as Mama, but withdrew prior to opening citing the demands of the rehearsal and performance schedule.
She attended Music and Art High School, and was a classmate of Billy Dee Williams. In many interviews about her childhood, Carroll recalls her parents’ support of her and that they enrolled her in dance, singing, and modeling classes. By the time she was 15, she was modeling for Ebony. She was tall, with a lean model’s build. After graduating from high school, Carroll attended New York University, majoring in sociology.
She got her big break at the age of 18, when she appeared as a contestant on the Dumont Television Network program, Chance of a Lifetime, hosted by Dennis James. On the show which aired January 8, 1954, Carroll took the $1,000 top prize for her 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.
Carroll’s film debut was a supporting role in Carmen Jones (1954) as a rival to the sultry lead character, Dorothy Dandridge. In 1959, she played Clara in the film version of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, but her character’s singing parts were dubbed by opera singer Loulie Jean Norman. She starred with Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward in the 1961 film Paris Blues. In 1962, she won the Tony Award for best actress (a first for a black woman) for the role of Barbara Woodruff in the Samuel A. Taylor and Richard Rodgers musical No Strings. In 1974, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Claudine.
Carroll is known for her title role in the 1968 television series Julia, which made her the first African-American actress to star in her own television series where she did not play a domestic worker. That role won her the Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress In A Television Series” in 1968, and a nomination for an Emmy Award in 1969, which TV Guide incorrectly claimed made her the first African American to earn an Emmy nomination (Ethel Waters for a guest appearance on Route 66, in 1962; Harry Belafonte, nominated in 1956 and 1961 and winning in 1960; and Sammy Davis, Jr., who was nominated in 1956 with Belafonte, all were nominated before Carroll).
In 1984, Carroll joined the nighttime soap opera Dynasty as the jetsetter Dominique Deveraux, half-sister of Blake Carrington. Her high-profile role on Dynasty also reunited her with schoolmate Billy Dee Williams, who briefly played her onscreen husband Brady Lloyd. Carroll remained on the show until 1987. She received her third Emmy nomination in 1989 for the recurring role of Marion Gilbert in A Different World.
In 1991, Carrol played the role of Eleanor Potter, the wife of Jimmy Potter, portrayed by Chuck Patterson, in The Five Heartbeats, a musical drama film in which Jimmy manages a vocal group. In a reunion with Billy Dee Williams in the TV series Lonesome Dove in 1995, she played Mrs. Greyson, the wife of Williams’ character. #SummerMadness #Carroll
Carmen Jones (’54)
Paris Blues (’61)
The Five Heartbeats (’91)
Eve’s Bayou (’97)