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Diahann Carroll Recalls Her 'Dynasty' Diva Days

Actress and singer featured on PBS 'Pioneers of Television'

Diahann Carroll pioneer television red carpet smile

Diahann Carroll on the red carpet, 2012. — Byron Purvis/AdMedia/Corbis

Q. You once said that playing Norma Desmond in the Canadian production of Sunset Boulevard in the mid-'90s was the most rewarding role of your career. Do you still feel that way?

A. I would say it was. However, I have paid the price for taking my life to Canada for almost two years and leaving everything — my family, my marriage. It was not an easy time. But it was a great experience, absolutely. Now I do like to do the kind of work that does not involve long periods of time on the road.

Q. You have a recurring role in the USA Network series White Collar. How does the show's filming schedule affect your life in California?

A. It's a wonderful situation. I think last season I shot four or five episodes. I go back to New York to shoot, which I love because my grandchildren live there — ages 10 and 12. They're almost as tall as I am.

'Listen more than you speak. Listen, and always ask questions.'

Q. An upcoming episode features you singing at the Cotton Club. Was that your idea or the writers'?

A. It was their idea. I haven't done any singing in a very long time. There comes a time where your vocal cords, they look at you and say, "We're tired." But I enjoyed doing it, I really did. It was nice to wake up those areas of my life again.

Q. You wrote an autobiography in 2009 called The Legs Are the Last to Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, and Other Things I Learned the Hard Way. What do you wish you knew in your 30s or 40s that you know now?

A. I've learned a great deal. However, I'm not sure I would have wanted to know it in my 30s and 40s — trying to find out is what gives you your momentum. I think you have to learn it on your own. Although the first thing in the profession that I know now, that I perhaps didn't then, is: Listen more than you speak. Listen, and always ask questions.

I think, too, at this age, I have understood that it's really not necessary to marry everyone that you feel you've fallen in love with. I remember having kind of a conversation like this with Elizabeth Taylor, and I think we'd both come to that conclusion. You don't have to get married! [laughs]

Q. Mistakes are often part of who you are.

A. Mistakes are definitely part of who I am. I wouldn't want to have lived without having those mistakes. So that's why I try to be cautious about advice. I hate giving advice.

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BREAKING A BARRIER: As Julia, Diahann Carroll was the first African American woman to star in a television series who wasn't playing a domestic worker. She continued to smash stereotypes in her role as Dominique Deveraux on Dynasty. She's featured on the PBS series Pioneers of Television.

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