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Bella Donna: Diahann Carroll


Born in the Bronx in 1935, Carol Diahann Johnson started singing in her church choir at age six. Ten years later, she auditioned for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show using the name Diahann Carroll, eventually winning the contest and performing on the daily radio show for three weeks. She sought modeling gigs, but her voice and presence presented her biggest successes.

Up against the color barrier on the big and small screens as well as on the stage, Carroll worked through it debuting both on Broadway in a supporting role in the Harold Arlen/ Truman Capote musical House of Flowers as well as having her film debut opposite Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones, an all-black, updated version of the Georges Bizet opera "Carmen." Upon reflecting on her early years, she later told a reporter, "I like to think I opened doors for other women, although that wasn't my original intention." Regardless of what she planned, that's just what she did. Find out what happened next for Carroll when you read more.

Still unable to climb to the top ranks of film with a leading role, she briefly returned to Broadway (winning a Tony for her performance in 1962 musical No Strings, a role was written just for her by Richard Rodgers of famed duo Rodgers and Hammerstein). Next up: Her big breakthrough to become the first black actress in television history to star in her own series. Carroll's role as the lead character in NBC's Julia convincingly portrayed the sophisticated actress as a nurse and widow struggling to support her small son. At her request the show ran for only two seasons but she came out with a Golden Globe for "Best Newcomer," an Emmy nomination, and the clout needed to get her first leading film role.

Acting as the title character in the 1974 film Claudine, Diahann Carroll was then nominated for a "Best Actress" Oscar the following year, making her one of only seven African-American actresses to ever receive this honor. With a career now spanning nearly six decades, she's still as beautiful and active as can be most recently acting in a recurring role (as Jane Burke) on Grey's Anatomy and releasing an autobiography in 2008 titled The Legs Are the Last to Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, Mothering and Other Things I Learned Along the Way. I'm a big fan of her varied hairstyles — and our shared love of eyeliner — so check out her glamorous shots over the years in the gallery below.



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