Born Carol Diann Johnson, July 17, 1935, in New York, NY; daughter of John (a subway conductor) and Mabel Faulk Johnson (a homemaker); married Monte Kay, 1956, (divorced); Freddie Glusman, 1973, (divorced); Robert DeLeon, 1975 (died, 1977); Vic Damone, 1987; daughter: Suzanne Kay.
Education: New York High School of Music and Art; attended New York University.
Singer, actress, 1951--. Model, Johnson Publications, 1950; singer, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Show, radio show, 1951; Chance of a Lifetime television show, first prize winner, 1952; nightclub singer, The Latin Quarter, Cafe Society Downtown, New York, 1952-53, numerous other nightclub engagements. Film appearances include Carmen Jones, 1954; Porgy and Bess, 1959; Paris Blues, 1961; Claudine, 1975. Stage appearances include House of Flowers, 1955; No Strings, 1961-62; Same Time Next Year, 1979; Agnes of God, 1982. Television appearances include Julia, (series), 1968-70; Death Scream, (movie), 1975; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (movie), 1979; Sister, Sister, (movie), 1982; Dynasty, (series), 1984-87; From the Dead of Night, (miniseries), 1990; Lonesome Dove, (series), 1994--. Also made guest television appearances on The Tonight Show, The Danny Kaye Show, and The Carol Burnett Show, Burke's Law, and Evening Shade. Released numerous record albums and cast recordings. Author, Diahann!, Little Brown and Company, 1986.
Diahann Carroll has spent more than 40 years in show business, making a name for herself as a glamorous nightclub singer and as an actress who has performed on Broadway, in movies, and on television. Throughout her career, which has ranged from classic musicals to night-time soap operas, Carroll has returned to her roots--cabaret singing--after acting stints or times of personal turmoil and distractions, of which many have come and gone. The once widowed, twice divorced entertainer admitted to the Los Angeles Times' Leonard Feather that in her early relationships she was "too young, married to her work, and quite selfish about it." In her autobiography, Diahann!, she confessed, "All I ever wanted to do was sing. What happened was more."
The business Carroll entered in her teens altered dramatically over the next few decades, and Carroll's involvement help speed along some of the change. During a United Press International (UPI) interview held in 1986, Carroll described the entertainment industry as she once found it. "In the beginning, I found myself dealing with a show business dictated by male white supremacists and chauvinists. As a black female, I had to learn how to tap dance around the situation. I had to ... find a way to present my point of view without being pushy or aggressive." For women in general, the atmosphere was not very inviting. Carroll informed the UPI that "in the old days, the only women I saw in this business were in makeup, hairdressing, and wardrobe departments. Now I'm surrounded by women executives, writers, directors, producers, and even women stagehands."
Diahann Carroll was born Carol Diann Johnson, the first child of John Johnson and Mabel Faulk Johnson. The two had met in New York City and married at 20 and 21, respectively. 13 months after their marriage, Carol was born. The family lived in an apartment on West 151st Street in Harlem. Carol first began singing at age six, as part of the Tiny Tots choir at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. She sang the solo parts in hymns such as "There Is a Balm in Gilead," and "No Hiding Place Down There." Even as a child, the young girl recognized that she loved singing, and she soon began taking lessons in downtown Manhattan, after an organization affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera offered her a scholarship. With her voice teachers, she learned a broader repertory of music, including German lieder and Italian art songs. She also took piano lessons.
By the time Carol was in junior high school, her family lived in a brownstone that they owned in Harlem. Her father worked as a subway conductor at the Department of Transportation of the City of New York, and her mother devoted all of her attention to caring for her beloved daughter. Carol received abundant and strict parental attention, and she did her homework and took piano lessons faithfully.
After completing junior high, Carol entered New York's High School of Music and Art. There, she first began shaping to her musical ambitions. As a 14-year old, intensely interested in fashion and clothes, Carol also sent a picture of herself to the fashion editor of Ebony magazine on a whim. Six months later, she got a letter inviting her to the magazine's offices for an interview, and won an assignment modeling with four other teenage girls in a petticoat layout for Johnson Publications, the magazine's publisher. She made $10 an hour for the job. As a 15-year-old, Carol also got her first steady job, working in the hat department at Macy's.
One year later, at age 16, Carol also made her first move into show business, teaming up with a classmate from school to try out for a television show called Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. When the show's producers objected to the duo's name, Carol adopted the stage name Diahann Carroll, thought up by her friend. After the audition, Carroll was invited to appear on the show, without her friend, and when she did, she won first prize. After that, she appeared on Godfrey's daily radio show for three weeks.
After graduation from high school, Carroll enrolled at New York University, where she intended to study psychology. Despite her attempts to comply with her parents' desire that she complete her education, singing and modeling proved a more compelling lure than schoolwork. First, she won three thousand dollars on Chance of a Lifetime, a television talent show that netted her a week's engagement at a nightclub called the Latin Quarter. After that short gig, the owner of the nightclub, who also ran a talent management agency, offered her a contract.
Carroll devoted a large portion of her time to voice lessons, rehearsals, modeling, and singing jobs. At the end of her first term in college, she withdrew from her classes, intending to devote two years to exploring the possibility that she could make a career as a singer. Although she tried to win roles in Broadway musicals, parts for black singers in the early 1950s were sparse. Instead, she sang in mountain resorts in the Catskills, and she toured small towns on her own, singing in nightclubs.
At 18, Carroll returned to New York City, and began to sing at the Cafe Society Downtown in Greenwich Village. In an effort to shed her naive and innocent persona, she began to wear slinky gowns, to go along with the torch songs she was singing, and her glamorous wardrobe soon became a part of her stage persona. She also explored the possibility of acting, traveling to California to audition for a part in the movie Carmen Jones, an all-black version of Bizet's opera Carmen. Although she didn't get the lead, she was cast in a small sidekick role.
After completing the film, Carroll returned to New York City, where she won the ingenue role in the Broadway musical House of Flowers, a role for which she was nominated for a Tony award. While working on this show, Carroll dated the show's casting director, Monte Kay, who became her first husband in September of 1956. Carroll continued working in nightclubs, but she also devoted a large part of her energy to her husband.
In 1959, Carroll accepted an offer to appear in her second movie, taking the role of Clara in Porgy and Bess. While filming this project, Carroll met and fell in love with the actor Sidney Poitier. Because both were married, however, they returned to their respective lives, and Carroll continued pursuing nightclubs for work. In September of 1960, Carroll had a child, Suzanne Patricia Ottilie Kay, with her husband, in an effort to save her marriage.
Early in 1961, Carroll flew to Paris to work on the film Paris Blues, another film with Sidney Poitier. The two continued their turbulent and unresolved relationship, until, finally, Carroll divorced her husband, and began seeing Poitier regularly, despite the fact that he had yet to divorce his wife. Meanwhile she had become a regular guest on the Tonight Show, hosted by Jack Paar. Carroll also starred in Broadway musical, No Strings, which was written for her by Richard Rodgers, a legend in American musical theater. Carroll's performance as a fashion model in Paris earned her a second Tony nomination, after the show opened in New York City in March of 1962. She won, sharing the award with another nominated actress.
When the show's New York run ended, Carroll went on tour with the rest of the cast. Her involvement with No Strings ended in California, when she abruptly became engaged to Sidney Poitier, only to break off the relationship several months later. Carroll then resumed her nightclub singing, moving to expand her repertoire beyond the Harold Arlen and Cole Porter standards she had previously perfected. Finally, nine years after they had first met, she was able to bring her alliance with Poitier to an end in 1968.
At that time, Carroll embarked on a new phase of her career. Although she had previously appeared on a number of television variety shows, including The Danny Kaye Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and specials with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, television had not been a major facet of her activities. In 1968, however, she became the star of her own television series. Julia depicted the life of a widowed nurse who was struggling to raise her child in Southern California. It became the first television show on the air to feature a black as a main character. The show was first aired in September, on Tuesday evenings, and by October of 1968, it had become the highest rated show on the air. That year, Carroll won a Golden Globe award for "Best Newcomer on Television" for Julia.
With this popularity came heightened exposure for Carroll, and pressure for her to respond to the racial tensions of the day, which had risen to a fever pitch in the wake of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. Although she had no control over the contents of the script for her show, she felt that she was held accountable for its racial content. Nearly 20 years later, during an interview with a UPI's Vernon Scott, Carroll recalled, "I learned quickly that almost any time a third world face became prominent on TV, we became responsible for the whole minority community." Despite the tension involved in making the situation comedy, Carroll settled in Los Angeles, buying a large house on Benedict Canyon Road, and furnishing it lavishly. After impersonating a wholesome nurse on television, Carroll discovered that her nightclub career had withered, as fans replaced their old image of her as a glamorous singer with their new impression. In an effort to regain an audience, she began making her shows more elaborate. In 1970, exhausted by the pressures of a weekly series, Carroll requested to be released from her contract for Julia.
Lacking other television or film opportunities, Carroll returned, as always, to singing. At this time, she had become romantically involved with David Frost, a British talk show host. In November of 1972, she and Frost became engaged, although their relationship was strife-ridden. In February of the following year, Carroll finally called off their wedding plans. A week later, she married another man, Freddie Glusman, whom she had seen intermittently while being involved with Frost. A few months later, the couple divorced. Later she identified the "episode as 'a silly marriage and a silly divorce,'" according to a Los Angeles Times article.
In the wake of this personal turmoil, Carroll turned to her professional life with renewed enthusiasm. She was offered the lead in a movie entitled Claudine. The project followed the life of a woman living in Harlem, who struggles to raise her six children. The film, in which Carroll was cast against type, received strong reviews, and the actress was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in 1975.
In the course of publicizing Claudine, Carroll met Robert DeLeon, the 24-year-old managing editor of Jet magazine. Less than three months later, the two married. A short time later Carroll decided to move to Oakland with her new husband, whom she described to the Los Angeles Times' as "a complex, brilliant young man," and retire from show business. After nine months, during which DeLeon began to drink heavily and run up debts, the two returned to Los Angeles. Carroll's rocky relationship with her husband ended when he was killed in a 1977 automobile accident.
In an effort to get over the shock of her unexpected widowhood, Carroll returned to show business, taking a part in comedic play Same Time Next Year. She also began writing a memoir. In the fall of 1982, she revived her acting career with the role of the psychiatrist in the Broadway play Agnes of God, and then later toured with the production. This led to another, more lasting assignment, when she was given the part of Dominique Deveraux on the nighttime soap opera Dynasty.
In 1984, Carroll also began dating fellow singer Vic Damone. Two years later, she released her autobiography, entitled Diahann!. The work chronicled her career and her love life up until that point. Early in the next year, she wed for the fourth time, when she and Damone tied the knot in Atlantic City, while completing a joint singing engagement there. A happy Carroll declared in a Los Angeles Times' interview, "We're having a wonderful time, off stage and on. Come to think of it, this is probably the only time I should have gotten married."
Carroll and her new husband continued to sing together throughout the late 1980s, and she also pursued other television projects, such as a joint talk show hosting assignment with her daughter, Suzanne Kay. By 1990, however, tales that Carroll's latest marriage was on the rocks were starting to circulate. In September of that year she told People' s Peter Castro, "In the beginning, I used to think those rumors were monumentally important, and I used to call everyone to find out where they got their sources, but now we just ignore them." Commenting on the difficulties of a Hollywood marriage, she also stated, "It's fascinating to be together--and we're going to pay the price for it. Our marriage has wonderful turbulence, just like most relationships." But in April of 1991, the pair had filed for a formal separation.
At that time, Carroll also decided to cut back on her professional engagements. She limited her acting to occasional appearances on television and curtailed her nightclub dates. In April of 1992, Carroll reunited with her husband, and by November of that year, the two had made plans to perform together again. In January of 1994, she also announced that she was putting together a new act to be performed in Atlantic City, and she accepted guest spots on two television shows. In the fall of that year, she accepted her third regular television job, joining the cast of the Western series Lonesome Dove.
As she approached age 60, Carroll had once again defied the odds in her industry, continuing to work while other women, blacks, and actors over the age of 40 found it difficult to sustain their careers. Throughout her long career, her versatility, and her capacity to continue working as a singer, even in times of personal crisis, had served her well. As Marilyn Beck commented of Carroll in The Sun-Sentinel, "Where she's been is to hell and back, to the heights and depths, since she broke into the business." Carroll herself noted to the UPI's Hollywood reporter, "I like to think I opened doors for other women, although that wasn't my original intention." Indeed, Carroll's ability to survive and persevere has made her career an example for other singers and actors.
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