By Carla Newsome McManus
November 11, 2008

Diahann Carroll....an entertainment icon, a humanitarian, a living legend. Her name is synonymous with elegance, grace, and style. Her work, contributions and remarkable talent have inspired us and opened doors for many other icons in show business today. Her latest memoir, The Legs are the Last to Go is a captivatingly candid account of her career; relationships with family; her marriages; and her personal fight against breast cancer. She even frankly discusses a few of the mistakes that she made on her journey to success. While satisfying the reader's appetite for Hollywood glitz, glamour, and all things fabulous, The Legs are the Last to Go takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes journey to explore the rigorous work and sacrifices that Diahann Carroll has made to survive in the relentlessly competitive entertainment industry. Taken directly from a master teacher, it is a lesson and must-read for anyone aspiring to enter show business. In her memoir, Ms. Carroll will inspire you, elevate your sense of appreciation for the work show business, and even make you laugh like no other diva can!

So, instead of fighting 5:00 pm rush hour traffic in Atlanta, I indulged in the ultimate treat... a cup of tea and conversation about acting, marriage, and aging with non-other than the legend, Ms. Diahann Carroll. What a phenomenal woman!!




Carla:  Ms. Carroll, how are you this evening?
Carroll: I'm fine. Thank you.

Carla: Let me first just say that I am elated. It is such an honor to have the opportunity to speak with a living legend in entertainment. When I told my daughter that I would speak with you today, she was beside herself with excitement and said "Oh my God! You mean you're actually going to speak with the Diahann Carroll from Eve's Bayou?"
Carroll: Ahh. Thank you so much.

Carla:   I recall that you wrote one autobiography during the 80's. (Diahann The Autobiography of Diahann Carroll) What inspired to write another one?
Carroll: Well, 20 years has passed since the writing of my last autobiography.Over a 20 year time span quite a few events have occurred in my life that felt the need to share.

Carla:  In chapter 1 ‘Upon the Wicked Stages’ you talk about Pearl Bailey’s maternal yet competitive relationship with you during the performance of the House of Flowers play. As you rehearsed this play, Pearl Bailey taught you all about the cruelties of show business; yet, when you applied eyeliner, she demanded that you remove it immediately. She’d also demanded that the play's producer permit her to sing “Don’t Like Goodbyes” instead of you. To deepen that emotional injury, she even kept your face buried in her lap as she sang so that the audience could not see you.
Ms Carroll, during this young and innocent period in your life when the harsh realities racism experienced by Blacks entering show-business was crippling, I’m quite sure that being treated this way by another African American woman that you looked up to must have been extremely hurtful and discouraging.
Carroll: (Sigh) Umm, hum. Yes. It was very painful. But like many entertainers at the time, Pearl Bailey occasionally fell victim to the "I’m the star" syndrome. Also, back in those days, you did what you had to do in order to remain in the business of entertainment. It’s just the harsh reality of show business. I’m sure that Pearl Bailey was simply trying to survive. Like any other job, show business is competitive. Regardless of your age, you must be prepared. When it is your turn to be a star you have to take your opportunity. Pearl Bailey just thought that it was her turn, so she seized the moment.

Carla: Did Pearl Bailey ever apologize to you or explain her love/hate attitude toward you at any time after the House of Flowers play?
Carroll: No.

Carla: Do you think that Ms. Bailey's behavior was motivated by the idea that since you were much younger than she, you would have many more opportunities to be a star? So missing a star opportunity would not affect you very much since there were many years left for you to succeed in show business?
Carroll: Well, that is quite possible.

Carla: Your grandmother and parents went to great lengths to ensure that you were impeccably dressed and stylish. In chapter 2 of your book, Queen Mother, you say “They stared at me because I was the best-dressed girl from New York. It made me feel awkward, but good, too. My mother and grandmother wanted me to project a ‘better than’ quality. And I did, but with that came a feeling of ‘separated from’ that has stayed with me my whole life."
Do you still feel a sense of separation from others today?
Carroll: Yes. And I do accept that fact that I will not share interests with every person that I meet. For example, I certainly feel that I am ‘separated’ from Michelle Obama. She is so brilliant that I would be surely be intimidated.


Carla: Michelle Obama is phenomenal, isn't she? But you're so elegant. I believe both of you might intimidate each other (Laughter)! But, this is a perfect segue to my next question...let's move from the politics of Hollywood to the politics on Capital Hill. How do you feel about Barack Obama being the first African American president of the United States? Are you excited?
Carroll: Oh yes! I am absolutely thrilled that he is our President. I really did not think that in my lifetime, I would witness a Black man become president of the United States.

Carla: I gathered from your book that men always pursued you in romantic relationships. You never really initiated relationships with them. I assume that this was because your mother, Mabel, thought that it was unladylike for you to pursue men. But, you needed her approval. As a result, you found yourself in unhealthy and even abusive relationships with men who chose you but did not nurture your emotional needs. Am I correct?
Carroll: Yes, you’re exactly right. In my mother’s day, it was considered unladylike to initiate romantic relationships with men.

Carla: Do you think that it’s acceptable today for women to initiate romantic relationships with men?
Carroll: Of course. We’re in a different time now and the world is smaller. However, I think women should themselves first and avoid being consumed with finding a man. I stopped stop looking for mates and it has done me a world of good. I am much happier with my life and with who I am.


Carla: Ms. Carroll, your brave fight and will to survive breast cancer has been an inspiration to many women around the world. Are there any additional projects that you plan engage in to educate women and communities about breast cancer?
Carroll: Definitely. I am staying in touch with many researchers, traveling and initiating programs to educate the community about breast cancer. There is such a need for this. I was on a speaking engagement one day and learned that a woman refused to share the fact that she had breast cancer with her significant other. She like to many other women are keeping the disease a secret and are refusing treatment. Unfortunately, they are more concerning about possibility of becoming disfigured and unattractive to their husbands. This problem is also becoming more prevalent and common in our communities. This is one reason why I feel the need to continue to support research for breast cancer to continue educate women about the disease. I am also currently working with researchers to bring attention to herceptin as a possible treatment for breast cancer.

Carla: As I mentioned before, you have certainly helped to open doors for other African Americans in Hollywood. You were even cast as lead actress in Sunset Boulevard as Norma Desmond during a time when casting an African American woman in a lead role was unheard of. But while we have certainly come a long way, we still have quite a way to go. How long to you believe it will take before more women of African descent receive leading roles in film and television?
Carroll: We do have a long way to go in show business. There are far fewer African American actors making 20 million dollars than there are white actors making this large sum of money. I’m not sure how long it will take for African Americans to receive equitable pay and opportunities in Hollywood.

Carla: What do you think we need to do as an African American community to support our actors and ensure that they receive equitable pay and treatment? Do you believe that perhaps a grass-roots effort would be necessary?
Carroll: No. We have to learn to pursue careers in entertainment without becoming emotional. Actors and actresses must understand that they are part of the marketplace. To succeed as an actor, you must deal with these realities and assess whether or not you really want to participate in this difficult marketplace. It is also important to know whether you want to pursue the career or if the career chooses you.


Carla: Thank you Ms. Carroll. As founder of a book club and an avid reader, I must ask the all important question (Laugh). Who are you favorite authors and books?
Carroll: Well, there are some many that I enjoy and just too many to name. But, I love Toni’s Morrison’s work very much.

Carla: I remember reading that you enjoyed fishing. Do you have any other favorite past-times?
Carroll: To be honest, I am so busy that I really don’t have time to pick any hobbies. Work consumes most of my time. For example, I’ve been on the phone interviewing since 10:00 this morning.

Carla: That leads me to my next question. As a married working mother of two daughters (5 and 17), I am busier that I never imagined I would be. I'm beginning to realize that at some point, I may not be able to do it all. Do you believe that women can have it all (career, family, marriage) and be successful?
Carroll: No. At least not without a price. Having it all can be very difficult unless everyone in your family is pulling in the same direction.

Carla: If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you still pursue a career in show business? If not, what would you be?
Carroll: It is very likely that I would remain in show business. I was chosen for show business.

Carla: If I have not already mentioned Ms. Carroll, you look fantastic on the cover of this book. The pomegranate juice is really doing you justice.
Carroll: Thank you.

Carla: Speaking of beauty and physical fitness is there any single important point that you'd like to share with your readers and fans?
Carroll: Yes. It is so important to become disciplined at taking care of yourself physically and mentally. Accept that fact that you may not be able to do it all. So do as much as possible to reduce stress in your life. To much stress leads to many physical ailments. physical ailments.

Carla: Okay. I'm going to take your advice Ms. Carroll and pour myself a glass of pomegranate juice, turn on a Janet Jackson or Beyonce CD and work it out!
Carroll: (Laughter). Okay. Just stick with it. I know you can do it!

Carla: Thank you Ms. Carroll. I've really enjoyed talking to you.
Carroll: Thank you so much for your time.

Copyright Carla Newsome McManus. All rights reserved

 


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