Diahann Carroll, Pioneering Actress on ‘Julia’ and ‘Dynasty,’ Dies at 84
The Hollywood Reporter 10/4/2019 by Mike Barnes
Diahann Carroll, the captivating singer and actress who came from the Bronx to win a Tony Award, receive an Oscar nomination and make television history with her turns on Julia and Dynasty, died Friday. She was 84.
Carroll was known as a Las Vegas and nightclub performer and for her performances on Broadway and in the Hollywood musicals Carmen Jones and Porgy & Bess when she was approached by an NBC executive to star as Julia Baker, a widowed nurse raising a young son, on the comedy Julia.
Julia, which premiered in September 1968, finished No. 7 in the ratings in the first of its three seasons, and Carroll received an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe for her work.
Carol Diahann Johnson was born in Fordham Hospital in the Bronx on July 17, 1935. Her father, John, was a subway conductor when she was young, and her mother, Mabel, a nurse. She earned admission to the High School of Music & Art, where Billy Dee Williams was a classmate.
At 15, she began to model clothing for black-audience magazines like Ebony, Tan and Jet. Her dad disapproved at first, then began to reconsider when she told him she had earned $600 for a session.
Her parents drove her to Philadelphia on many weekends so she could be a contestant on the TV talent show Teen Club, hosted by bandleader Paul Whiteman. And then she won several times on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts program, where she first billed herself as Diahann Carroll.
After enrolling at NYU to study psychology, she appeared on the Dennis James-hosted ABC talent show Chance of a Lifetime in 1953 and won for several weeks. One of her rewards was a regular engagement to perform at the famed Latin Quarter nightclub in Manhattan.
Christine Jorgensen taught her how to “carry” herself onstage, she said, and she moved in with her manager, training and rehearsing every day. She soon was singing in the Persian Room at New York’s Plaza Hotel and at other hotspots including Ciro’s, The Mocambo and The Cloister in Hollywood, The Black Orchid in Chicago and L’Olympia in Paris.
She soon dropped out of college to pursue performing full time and was brought to Los Angeles to audition for Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954), landing the role of Myrt opposite the likes of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge.