Monday, August 24, 2015

Diahann Carroll on TCM

I love singer/actress Diahann Carroll.  She's a gorgeous groundbreaker in American showbiz history.  There was JULIA, the sitcom on NBC from 1968 to 1971.  Diahann Carroll played a single working mother, a widow named Julia Baker.  After my parents divorced, I was the son of a single working mother.  Julia and my mother wore similar outfits to work because they were both registered nurses.  Carroll cut through Hollywood margins. She starred in a prime time network TV series and she was not in a stereotypical role for a black actress.  She was not a domestic.  She was a registered nurse.  This professional image was a first for TV and opened a door for other black actresses such as Kerry Washington on ABC's Scandal.  Hell, it opened a door for us all.                                   
I read that Diahann Carroll with be the Guest Programmer with host Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies come September.  Let's make a point to watch.
I have been hardcore TCM fan since 1999.  If you're a person of color -- a minority, if you will -- you look for images of yourself on TV and film.  When I was a youngster, my parents were immediately attentive whenever a black performer appeared on TV.  Not only would they be attentive and alert when they saw black performers on shows that usually had predominantly white talent, my mother would get on phone and call the neighbors with the news bulletin:  "Black girls on TV!  Turn on Channel 2!"  Even though I rolled my eyes when I was kid every time my mother did that, I proved to be my mother's child and did the same exact thing decades later whenever I saw black actors in episodes of Seinfeld.  Diversity is important to us people of color.  Diversity topped national entertainment news early this year when the Oscar nominations were announced and the field of nominees in the acting categories was whiter than a board meeting at Fox News. 

So, as a guy who deeply loves TCM, it's disappointed me a bit that we haven't seen more color in its line-up of guest hosts.  Black guest hosts and guest programmers are rare.  Remember TCM's "Friday Night Spotlight on Africa" last October?  Who hosted that?  Alex Trebek.  Caucasian Canadian Alex Trebek.  He's a terrific TV talent and he's delighted me for years as host of Jeopardy.  But...maybe TCM could've have considered LeVar Burton, Lou Gossett Jr., Leslie Uggams, John Amos or Richard Roundtree (star of Shaft and the sequel Shaft in Africa).  Those actors were in Roots, the classic epic TV mini-series that traced the history of African-Americans.  Actor Delroy Lindo (The Cider House Rules) would've been another good choice.  He was in one of the films that Trebek presented.  If I was on the TCM production team, I would've pitched those black talents as possible hosts for last October's Spotlight on Africa.

I'd love to see African-American, Latino and Asian-American guest hosts on Turner Classic Movies.  Believe me.  The huge fan base for classic films is not just one color.  That's why I'm thrilled to see Diahann Carroll booked for September 30th.

Here's how she made American showbiz history on film and on Broadway:  Diahann Carroll is a Broadway veteran.  She worked with Harold Arlen and Truman Capote for the 1954 Broadway musical, HOUSE OF FLOWERS.  She acted onscreen opposite Dorothy Dandridge in CARMEN JONES, the 1954 musical drama that made Dandridge the first black woman to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.  Diahann Carroll also worked in Dandridge's last Hollywood film, the deluxe 1959 film version of the Broadway musical, PORGY AND BESS.  Sidney Poiter starred as Porgy.  Otto Preminger directed both Dandridge musicals.  Diahann Carroll and Sidney Poitier co-starred in Martin Ritt's PARIS BLUES along with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.  The two actresses played best friends on vacation in Paris who meet to jazz musicians who are also best friends.  In this 1961 movie, Paul Newman flirts with the sophisticated Diahann Carroll.  Top Hollywood stars, upscale interracial friendships and interracial flirting -- that was new turf for movies in those early days of the Civil Rights movement.  The biggest and most intense national issues in America at that time were racial desegregation, voting rights for black people and racial equality in the workplace.

In another 1961 romantic drama set in Europe, she had a lovely scene with Anthony Perkins.
The movie was GOODBYE AGAIN, also starring Ingrid Bergman and Yves Montand.

Diahann Carroll played a glamorous top fashion model, again an American in Paris, who falls in love with a white Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.  They have a fine romance in France but would they face racial drama if they took their relationship back home to America?  This early 1960s interracial love story was the Broadway musical NO STRINGS with music by Richard Rodgers.  Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley introduced the song "The Sweetest Sounds."  She made history as the first black woman to the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. What a shame that Hollywood didn't turn that socially progressive hit Broadway musical into a movie.

Diahann Carroll sang with showbiz and movie legend Judy Garland when she was a guest on Garland's Sunday night variety show on CBS.
One of Diahann Carroll's best friends was another groundbreaking black actress who went from Broadway to film and TV.  The extraordinary Diana Sands was in the original Broadway cast of A Raisin in the Sun.  She repeated her role with fellow stage cast members in the 1961 film version.  Sands originated the role of Doris on Broadway in The Owl and the Pussycat.  The part was not written for a black actress.  Sands was cast based on her talent and comedy skills.  Diana Sands and Alan Alda originated the roles on Broadway that were done on film by Barbra Streisand and George Segal in 1970.

Sands was absolutely luminous and Oscar-worthy (although never nominated) in Hal Ashby's under-appreciated social satire, The Landlord (1970).  Diana Sands was in the supporting cast of Julia.  Sands (on the left) and Diahann Carroll played relatives.
The late Diana Sands was to star in the 1974 movie CLAUDINE.  But she was stricken with cancer.  Reportedly, she asked Diahann Carroll to take over the role for her.  Carroll played the hard-working single mother in Harlem.  James Earl Jones starred as a new man in Claudine's life.  With this film, Diahann Carroll made Hollywood history.  She followed Dorothy Dandridge as one of the few black women to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.

Millions remember the glamorous Carroll as the beautifully bitchy Dominique Deveraux on the huge hit ABC TV series, Dynasty, in the 1980s.
I've been fortunate enough in my long TV career to have had two encounters with Ms. Carroll.  One was off-camera as we departed a flight and she held my hand.  The other was live on-camera when I was a regular on Fox5's Good Day New York.  Both experiences were sublime.

I'm sure she will be sublime on TCM with Robert Osborne on Sept. 30th.  Two of the film she's selected are Now, Voyager and Claudine.  For your listening pleasure, Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley sing "The Sweetest Sounds" from the NO STRINGS original Broadway cast recording.  Nominated for Best Musical,  this production enabled Ms. Carroll to win a groundbreaking Tony Award for 1962's Best Lead Actress in a Musical.



  1. I am so looking forward to Diahann Carroll being on TCM! I've always had a bit of a crush on her. Anyway, I have to agree that TCM needs more ethnic diversity when it comes to its guest hosts. I would love to see Rita Moreno as a guest host. I don't know if he is into classic film, but I think Wes Studi would make a good guest host as well.

  2. Wes Studi or Adam Beach would be excellent. Or Chris Eyre, director of the very entertaining 1995 indie film, SMOKE SIGNALS. Adam Beach is in that. I interviewed Chris Eyre on "Good Day New York" on Ch. 5 and he was a mighty fine morning news show guest. And you are so right about Rita Moreno. She should be a TCM guest host.


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