Diahann Carroll was a groundbreaking figure in the world of entertainment. As a Black performer, she faced prejudice and backlash from all sides, but she never let it completely snuff out her love of the craft. However, her personal relationships always haunted her in the background, making it hard for her to enjoy her own success. Not even Dominique Deveraux could hold a candle to Diahann Carroll's harrowing real-life full of obstacles, complicated relationships, and jealous lovers.
Born on July 17, 1935, in the Bronx, New York City, Diahann Carroll didn’t always have the confidence she practically oozed later in life. You see, her family was quite poor, but her mom and dad were absolutely enamored with the upper crust of African-American society. They wanted to move up in the world, but tragically, this led to one of the most heartbreaking memories from Carroll’s childhood.
When Carroll was just a toddler, her parents abandoned her, leaving her in North Carolina with her aunt. In a cold and calculating move, both her parents crunched the numbers and realized they couldn’t afford to take care of Carroll. They decided to leave their child behind and spend a year getting ahead financially. The event completely scarred young Diahann Carroll, leaving her haunted with feelings of abandonment for the rest of her life.
Carroll's parents did eventually come back for her, and the little family soon moved to Harlem. There, her parents’ drive to succeed in life soon influenced little Carroll in a big way.
Although Harlem, in Carroll’s words, was a “scrappy neighborhood,” she found herself being treated like a princess by her parents. They encouraged her to join in on school plays and take piano lessons, shaping their girl to be “respectable” despite her background. Her mom spent hours making sure young Carroll only dressed in the finest of clothes.
Above all, they wanted to give Carroll every chance to rise above her station, but, in an ironic twist, it caused her to experience plenty of childhood horrors.
At school, the way Carroll carried herself caused some of the kids to be downright vicious to her. A gang of girls at school took a special interest in Carroll, and once stalked her all the way home, only leaving when Carroll’s mom called the authorities. Then, the next day, things took a terrifying turn. The girls rushed Carroll and began to rip out clumps of her curly hair.
The horrible event had one small, silver lining though. A guidance counselor recommended that Carroll switch schools, and it changed her life forever.
At her counselor’s urging, Carroll auditioned for the chance to attend Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. If the mouthful of a name didn’t already give it away, the school was an extremely prestigious institution. Carroll managed to land herself there after showing off her piano skills, and soon, she was absolutely thriving. By the time she hit 15, she began her first steps to stardom.
Carroll got her first big break thanks to an enormous stroke of luck. A friend of hers took a photo of her and sent it to Ebony magazine. Carroll didn’t expect anything to come of it, but to her surprise, Johnson Publications, the owners of Ebony, requested an interview six months later. Nowadays, it may seem obvious that Carroll got the job, but she made a huge faux-pas during the meeting that almost cost her everything.
Carroll was maybe a little too eager to please the publication. Instead of showing up in appropriate attire for the occasion, Carroll went into the interview rocking a grey taffeta cocktail dress and a lavender straw hat with matching lavender gloves and veil. She even oiled her legs beforehand! It was a complete fashion disaster, or at least Carroll thought so.
Luckily for her, the editor for Ebony looked past all that and hired her on anyway. With that, Carroll found herself entering a whole new world.
As Carroll dove into the world of fashion, she wasn’t just making a name for herself with her fabulous photoshoots. She made deep connections to other successful Black women, whose fire and determination left a lasting impression on the young girl. Carroll didn’t know this yet, but their fire was beginning to turn her into an activist—which got her into trouble more than once.
Carroll soon got the chance to join a show called Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, which was basically the America’s Got Talent of her day. Carroll joined as a singer and managed to impress the audience with her voice. Unfortunately, things took a dark turn. Carroll and her mom went to meet with Godfrey shortly after Carroll’s appearance on the show, and everything about how Godfrey treated her mom shook Carroll to her core.
Not only did Godfrey shamelessly flirt with her mom, but he even made several extremely tasteless and shocking jokes about slavery. Carroll, unwilling to let Godfrey continue to demean her mother, snapped at him, “I don’t think my mom appreciates jokes like that.” Her words completely stopped Godfrey in his tracks.
For a moment, it seemed like that Carroll’s fledgling career had ended, but instead, Godfrey scheduled her in to appear in next week’s show. Just like that, Carroll’s talent, work ethic, and no-nonsense attitude changed the entire course of her future.
Diahann Carroll soon appeared in a tv contest show called Chance of a Lifetime on January 8, 1954. Like in her past television appearance, she entered as a singer–and completely took over show. Not only did Carroll take home a lucrative cash prize, but she also won a week’s worth of bookings at the Latin Quarter, a famed nightclub. Soon after, the owner of the Latin Quarter called her parents with some life-changing news: He wanted to make Carroll a star.
The Latin Quarter’s owner assigned Carroll to a manager named Chuck Woods, who quickly became “a mentor, taskmaster, and second family.” Woods whipped Carroll into shape, not just by helping her perfect her singing voice, but by helping her perfect her image too. From how to cross her legs to the perfect type of accessories to wear, Woods made sure Carroll exuded style and class—but he may have been a little bit too successful.
Carroll spent the next while attempting to break out of the nightclub scene, but failed every time. The reason? She was a little too lady-like. In Carroll’s own words, she was “too stiff, too correct, too fixated on work…to have fun and explore my feelings.” It was so bad, in fact, that even her own mom suggested that Carroll have something to drink before her shows to loosen up—and when your own mom is trying to get you to drink, you know you’re doing something wrong. This problem, unfortunately, followed Carroll right into Hollywood.
Carroll eventually got the chance to audition for the starring role in the film Carmen Jones in 1954. The audition ended up being an absolute disaster. During the tryout, Carroll acted across James Edwards, “a terribly worldly and seductive man,” but just could not handle the adult undertones of the scene. Constantly on the verge of devolving into a giggling teenager, her lady-like innocence absolutely disappointed the director, who gave the role to Dorothy Dandridge instead.
To add insult to injury, not only did Dandridge end up getting an Academy Award nomination for the role, but Carroll got stuck playing one of Dandridge’s sidekicks. For Carroll though, this wasn’t the only heartbreak Hollywood had in store for her.
During the shoot for Carmen Jones, Edwards began courting young Carroll. This wasn’t exactly a romantic partnership for the up-and-coming actress though. Not only was Edwards much older than her, but he was also married. Edwards was controlling too—he once got Carroll to undress, then left her alone in a locked hotel room. Carroll, not knowing any better, let him leave her in the room without any clothes on for an entire day. Poor girl!
Eventually, a chance to be in the Broadway musical House of Flowers allowed her to run…right into the arms of another man.
Carroll soon arrived back in New York to audition for the role of Ottilie in House of Flowers. During the audition, she met Monte Kay, the casting director. Despite their differences (Carroll was Black and Kay was white), the two fell head over heels for each other. Unfortunately, this also caused a ton of issues. Carroll’s dad, who deeply distrusted the white community, protested against the marriage, and even refused to show up to her wedding in 1956!
Carroll’s dad did eventually accept Carroll’s decision, but it soon became clear that Carroll just wasn’t ready for marriage.
Carroll, so used to being treated like a princess, just could not understand why Kay didn’t pay attention to her 100% of the time. During their honeymoon, Kay briefly left Carroll alone in order to read a book, and Carroll completely lost her mind. She threw a huge tantrum in the hotel, diving into the bed and banging her fist against the walls.
She completely shocked her new husband, but despite this red flag in their relationship, they kept trying to make it work. Spoiler alert: It totally didn’t work.
Three years into their marriage, Kay urged Carroll to take on the role of Clara in the film Porgy and Bess. This led to Carroll’s world being turned completely upside-down. On the set of Porgy and Bess, Carroll met Sidney Poitier, who, according to Caroll, exuded “such commanding power that I felt completely unmoored in his presence.”
Knowing she was in danger of falling for this handsome man, Carroll actively avoided bumping into him, even while her heart wanted otherwise. Soon, her heart won out—and that spelled disaster.
Carroll and Poitier began going on little romantic getaways—and they were definitely romantic, despite Carroll desperately trying to pretend otherwise. Carroll, sensing her impending loss of control, tried to save her marriage by inviting Kay to stay with her for three days in Hollywood. Unfortunately, Kay just could not stop Carroll from thinking about Poitier the entire time.
Eventually, the two confessed their love for each other, but they didn’t act on it—at least, not right away. Carroll’s sense of social justice pulled her attention away to more pressing matters.
For Carroll, Porgy and Bess was rife with problems. On a professional level, the movie didn't really showcase her in the best light—all the singing she did in the movie was completely dubbed over. On a personal level, the movie included a ton of cringe-worthy Black stereotyping, and it rubbed Carroll completely the wrong way.
Just a year after the film’s release, however, Carroll got the chance to correct this injustice with the film Paris Blues, where her love and professional lives collided.
Soon after the filming of Porgy and Bess, Diahann Carroll confessed to her husband that she and Poitier were in love. She attempted to run away with her new beau, but in a tragic twist, Poitier got cold feet at the last minute. This wasn’t the last of their meetings, however. She soon got the chance to act in the film Paris Blues, which, much to Carroll’s delight, had a more nuanced treatment of the lives of African-Americans.
What was much less delightful was the fact that Poitier was the movie’s leading star.
As if all this wasn’t enough to give anyone a headache, Carroll and Kay had a child together in an attempt to save their marriage. On September 9, 1960, Carroll gave birth to little Suzanne, whom both parents absolutely adored. However, Carroll could not shake her feelings for Poitier, and the fact that they worked together made it all the easier for Carroll to fall even more deeply in love with the man.
A few months after the filming of Paris Blues wrapped up, it all came crashing down around her.
In a moment that must’ve seemed completely surreal to Carroll, Poitier confronted her and Kay after one of her shows. He told her husband, point-blank, that he loved Carroll, planned to divorce his wife, and that Carroll and Kay should also divorce—and Kay agreed. The two split amicably, and Carroll began dating Poitier. Everything, for the moment, seemed perfect, but disaster awaited Carroll just around the corner.
In 1962, Diahann Carroll got the chance of a lifetime. Famed Broadway composer Richard Rodgers invited Carroll to star in his play No Strings and Carroll jumped at the chance. For Carroll, this was a chance to work with the same man who wrote the song, "You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught," which addressed issues of prejudice. This was right up Carroll’s alley!
Rodger’s attitude towards her, however, meant that dream quickly went up in smoke.
The night before the opening of No Strings, Rodgers gave Carroll some completely outrageous news. The hostess of the cast’s opening night party did not want Carroll to be there. According to the hostess, “It would confuse her children to see a Black woman who was sophisticated and elegant because they don’t exist.” Yikes! And Rodgers, who hired Carroll on to be the show’s leading lady, didn’t even defend her! Needless to say, Carroll didn’t take that lying down.
Carroll was going to have her own dang opening night party for the cast, and she made sure to invite everyone. She got her assistant to reserve seats at a restaurant beloved by the entire cast, and everyone showed up. For Carroll, the night proved just how artificial the barriers put up by society were. To make things all the sweeter, Carroll eventually won a Tony Award for her role in No Strings in 1962, the first Black woman to do so.
Even as Carroll made big waves in the entertainment industry, however, her love life was falling apart.
Over the next nine years, it slowly dawned on Carroll that being with Poitier was a terrible idea. Aside from looking down on her choice of career, Poitier also continued to flip-flop on his promise to marry her. Eventually, Poitier refused to let her daughter live with them and even changed the locks to their apartment. After nearly a decade-long relationship, Carroll decided that she and her daughter deserved so much more than Poitier, and the two split.
Did Carroll learn anything from the years she spent on this man though? Nope—and the success she found in one of her most famous roles only made it worse.
In 1968, NBC Studios hired Carroll for the title role in the sitcom Julia. The sitcom was a total hit, bringing in high ratings and taking Carroll into the homes of millions of viewers. Carroll loved the ground the sitcom broke. Not only did Carroll become the first woman to play an African-American woman who wasn’t a domestic worker, but she portrayed a widowed single mother.
It was a far cry from some of her stereotypical roles in the past, but Julia still managed to land Carroll in a bit of hot water.
As Diahann Carroll put it, “I was under the political microscope for Julia like you wouldn’t believe.” While her breakthrough role did so much to smash stereotypes, it never really directly addressed political issues surrounding life as an African-American. Poor Carroll got absolutely roasted for it, with papers trying to goad her into trash-talking the show, or trash-talking Black nationalist groups in America.
Carroll managed to keep a level head through it all, sidestepping these landmines set by journalists. It was too bad Carroll couldn’t do the same in her own home.
During her time filming Julia, DiahannCarroll began dating an actor named Alan Marshall, who, frankly, really only admired Carroll for the wealth she received from Julia’s success. It definitely showed in the way he treated her—he frequently belittled her for her fame and wealth (hypocritical much?) and even grilled Carroll the same way the journalists did. Soon, Carroll couldn’t take it anymore and left, but it cost her dearly.
Diahann Carroll left with her daughter and returned home the next day, where Marshall awaited. Marshall, upon seeing Carroll, gave her a horrific beating, all the while shouting, “I will ruin your face!” The event shook her to the core, and it finally woke her up. She realized she didn’t need to take this from anyone, so she left him for good. Still, old habits die hard. For Carroll, it took a couple more missteps with various men until she found happiness.
Diahann Carroll continued to date men who were either terrible for her, or, according to a very insecure Carroll, too good to be true. In the midst of all this, the controversy surrounding Julia finally wore her down, and she asked to be let out of her contract after just three seasons. It was a time of uncertainty for Carroll—with her career at a crossroads and her love life in shambles, Carroll feared what the future had in store for her.
It’s too bad that her search for security led her directly into her next rocky relationship.
In 1973, Carroll married a man named Fred Glusman. Carroll wasn’t all that excited about getting hitched either—when Glusman proposed to her out of the blue, she just shrugged and replied, “I guess so. Why not?” Not exactly the most romantic of proposals, and it led to a marriage that was also definitely far from romantic. The two barely lasted a couple of months, divorcing after Glusman “turned into a raging" fool.
Did she finally learn her lesson though? Well, you can probably guess what the answer to that question is.
After a short dry spell in her career, a heartbreaking tragedy led her to her next film role. Diana Sands, a friend of Carroll’s, became terminally ill with cancer during the filming of Claudine in 1973. Unable to keep up with the demands of the schedule, Sands recommended Carroll for the role. Tragically, Carroll’s friend passed before the movie’s release in 1974, but Carroll managed to do the role justice.
Her gritty portrayal of an African-American woman living in the mean streets of Harlem received critical acclaim, but it also led her to her next relationship disaster.
Claudine not only eventually earned Diahann Carroll an Oscar nomination in 1975, but it also earned her the admiration of Robert DeLeon, the managing editor of Jet magazine. Honestly though, “admiration” might be too nice of a way to put it. DeLeon was, well, kind of a stalker. After Carroll lost out on the Oscar, she flew back to Chicago…and DeLeon just so happened to book the seat next to Carroll.
He also not-so-subtly mentioned he was recently divorced. Carroll admired DeLeon’s ambition at least—but she soon realized she should’ve looked a bit more deeply into who this man truly was.
Wedding bells soon rang for the new couple, but it happened under some truly sketchy circumstances. First off, DeLeon always seemed to steer their conversations towards the topic of marriage. Secondly, DeLeon convinced Caroll to let him arrange the entire marriage ceremony himself. Thirdly—and most alarmingly of all—Jet magazine got exclusive coverage of the wedding, without Carroll’s knowledge.
This was all hindsight for Carroll, however. After the two wed in 1975, Carroll settled into the role of the happy housewife, to catastrophic results.
It didn’t take long for the issues in their marriage to raise their ugly heads. The biggest issue Carroll faced was money. Her new husband loved living it up, and his tastes were expensive. Carroll soon found herself shelling out some serious cash to pay for a luxurious home, a Ferrari, and fine clothes for her husband. Ambitious young DeLeon even eventually quit his job to open up his own public relations office in Los Angeles—using Carroll’s money, of course. It’s not surprising that this relationship ended soon too, but how it happened was chilling.
Despite Carroll effectively retiring from show biz at this point, she still held some serious clout within the community, and her new husband knew it. DeLeon found himself constantly on the verge of being known as “Mr. Diahann Carroll,” and the pressure of it all drove him to drink excessively. Soon, it all came crashing down. DeLeon lost his life in 1977 due to reckless driving.
Though they hadn't exactly had a perfect relationship, the news still absolutely devastated Carroll—and it sent her spiraling out of control.
For months, Carroll isolated herself from the rest of the world, losing herself to drinking to cope with the loss of her husband. Eventually, her mom managed to rouse Carroll out of her deep depression, encouraging Carroll to live her life. And Carroll did—she threw herself completely and wholly into work for the next three years (which included filming the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special).
In 1981 another handsome man charmed his way into her life. Would this finally be Carroll's happily ever after?
Carroll met American pop singer Vic Damone during a show in San Juan, and the two just seemed to click. They were both talented, funny, and just liked to be around each other. For Carroll, now 46 and a bit wiser, Damone was the perfect man, who respected her for who she was. It seemed like her love life was finally coming together—and even better things awaited her in the entertainment scene.
Three years after her first meeting with Damone, Carroll joined the nighttime soap opera Dynasty as Dominique Deveraux, one of her most well-known roles. Not only was Dynasty incredibly successful, but being able to play a villain felt incredibly liberating for Carroll. She came out of an era where, for better or worse, society expected Black entertainers to act as role models for other members of the Black community.
For Carroll, Dynasty let her act in a role “divested of any politics,” leading to many happy, and mischievous, memories on set.
On set, Carroll often found herself working with Dynasty’s other leading ladies, Linda Evans and Joan Collins. Carroll soon realized that Collins, for all her good qualities, always wanted to be the center of attention—so naturally, Carroll decided to mess with her. During rehearsals for an awards show, Carroll convinced Evans to keep Collins from walking in between them, messing up Collins’s “natural tendency to always be center stage.” Ironically, Carroll and Collins became close friends over the course of the show.
Unfortunately, this closeness did not extend to Carroll’s relationship with her new boyfriend.
While Carroll and Damone had a ton in common, they had one irreconcilable difference: Their work ethic. Carroll loved to perfect her craft, only letting herself relax after a hard day’s work. Damone really didn’t care for the whole “hard work” thing. Eventually, Carroll began covering Damone’s living expenses, even paying off his home in Palm Springs with her own money.
Despite the obvious red flags, Carroll and Damone were head-over-heels for each other, and began planning a wedding for 1987—yet the cracks still began to show.
Trouble began during the shows Carroll had together with Damone. Carroll found Damone frequently blowing off show rehearsals in favor of playing golf with the boys, and it completely infuriated her. For Diahann Carroll, so used to working around professionals who took great pride in their work, Damone’s actions were completely irresponsible.
After Damone blew off yet another one of their rehearsals in Atlantic City, Carroll had enough. In a fit of anger, she padlocked the door to their suite, locking Damone out. Her friends and family, seeing the state Carroll was in, did the only thing they could do: They staged an intervention.
Carroll’s friends and family got the unhappy couple together and asked point-blank if marriage really was a good idea. Carroll, as it turned out, overlooked many flaws that Damone had that made the two totally incompatible. For a moment, Carroll even had a moment of clarity, asking herself, “What was I doing? Competing with Elizabeth Taylor in husband collecting?” The moment didn’t last long though.
Carroll eventually decided it was too late to stop the wedding. She made up with Damone, went through with the farce of a wedding, and sealed her fate for the next nine years.
After years of work on Dynasty, Diahann Carroll got the exciting chance to be in the musical Sunset Boulevard playing Norma Desmond. After auditioning for the part, it became pretty clear to all involved that Carroll had a pretty good shot at the role, but her husband was less-than-pleased. You see, Damone was the kind of guy who didn’t like it when his wife was more famous than him, and his jealousy soon caused him to try to control her in some of the worst ways imaginable.
Damone began testing Carroll, as if to see how faithful she truly was. Carroll tried her best to tip-toe around her husband’s ego, but one particular incident shook her to her core. One day, Damone set up a meeting between Carroll and their financial advisor, ostensibly to discuss money, but it ended up being a trap. Their financial advisor cornered her in her car and tried to make moves on Carroll, insisting that he had Damone’s permission.
After fending him off by scratching his face open, Carroll returned home—to Damone’s chilling reaction.
Despite being the one to send her over, Damone insisted that Carroll shouldn’t have gone to the meeting. It had all been a test, to see if Carroll was faithful, and to Damone, she failed. Carroll, in her confusion and sadness, began drinking to cope with her husband’s attitude. It didn’t help that Damone’s friends kept trying to defend his ego, which definitely put a damper on Carroll’s ability to enjoy her success.
Carroll did eventually get the role in Sunset Boulevard. Critics lauded her performance, and her face began appearing on billboards everywhere in Toronto. As a result, her jealous husband visited her less and less. In fact, one of Damone’s friends suggested that Carroll take down all the billboards with her face on it to encourage Damone to visit more often! Talk about a fragile ego!
There’s a happy ending to this story, though. Carroll eventually realized that Damone was awful for her and her career, and she ended things with him in 1996. She decided she needed to find happiness through things that didn’t involve a man in her life, and that’s exactly what she did.
Carroll spent the next several years furthering her career, appearing in shows like Grey’s Anatomy and White Collar. She watched her daughter and grandkids grow up, and began working as a volunteer to help underprivileged women. Eventually, as the years wore on, doctors diagnosed Carroll with cancer, and she passed on in 2019.
Today, despite her tumultuous personal life, she’s remembered for her groundbreaking roles that paved the path for other Black actresses in the world of entertainment.
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