Offscreen Notes

Diahann Carroll (1935 – 2019)

October 14th, 2019

Diahann Carroll was alluring, intriguing, a fulfillment of what one hopes for in an entertainer. Consider her work: Claudine (John Berry, 1974) – the story of a single mother in Harlem, a working maid, Claudine (Diahann Carroll), struggling to keep her children Charlene and Charles, played by Tamu and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, on a straight path. Paris Blues (Martin Ritt, 1974), centered on two musicians (Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman) and their romances in Paris with American tourists (Diahann Carroll, Joanne Woodward). Actor-director Robert Townsend’s treatment of music and the carnivorous industry surrounding it in The Five Heartbeats (1991) featured Diahann Carroll and Henry Lennix, Lamont Johnson, Harold Nicholas, Theresa Randle, Leon Robinson, Tressa Thompson, and Michael Wright. Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1998), a story of youth, family, transgression, and punishment, set in Louisiana, mixing realism and magic, featuring Diahann Carroll as a spiritualist who may have access to powerful curses. If Diahann Carroll had appeared in only one of these films, she would have been a memorable presence in cinema; but she appeared in all of them and more; and yet, for her charisma, intelligence, and skill, Carroll might have been an even greater and more popular star in a more just world —something that can be said of many African-American artists, but of her most of all. Diahann Carroll (1935 – 2019) was born in New York, and went to the School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, debuted in House of Flowers (1954) on Broadway and in Carmen Jones (1954) in film. Carroll won a Tony award for the theatrical musical No Strings in 1962, and a Golden Globe for her work on television’s Julia (1969); and received an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the gritty (and funny) melodrama Claudine, but may be best known for her work as Dominique Deveraux on television in Dynasty in the 1980s. Many regretted that she was not able to star in an announced stage production with Denzel Washington in a 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun. She was wonderful.

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