Saturday, March 2, 2024

RIP “One Life to Live” Star Ellen Holly, 92, Whose Groundbreaking 1968 Storyline About Passing as White Made History


Ellen Holly has died at age 92. The famed African American actress made history on the soap “One Life to Live” in 1968 when she played Carla Gray (the name, obviously was an inside joke0, who passed for white while dating a white man. It was a groundbreaking storyline written by Agnes Nixon and delivered by Holly with art and grace.

“Agnes [Nixon, OLTL’s creator] wanted to take the viewers and have them become involved with a character, believing that character to be one thing,” Holly shared with in an interview here. That way, when the character’s true identity was revealed, if a viewer’s feelings about her changed, “the viewer would have her eyes opened up as to how she must be prejudiced.”

Carla eventually married Ed Hall, played by the legendary Al Freeman, Jr. If they did this story now, both actors would have won Emmy Awards. A young Lawrence Fishburne played her son. Holly left the show in 1973.

Besides “One Life to Live,” Holly had many New York theater credits. After the soap she had a recurring role on the TV version of “In the Heat of the Night.” In real life, she had a long on again, off again affair with actor and civil rights advocate Harry Belafonte.

Ellen Holly was a trailblazer. The picture here from “One Life to Live” may have been the first of its kind on daytime TV. I hope the Emmy Awards will include her next month in the In Memoriam.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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