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Diahann Carroll Recalls Her 'Dynasty' Diva Days

Actress and singer featured on PBS 'Pioneers of Television'

Carroll Diahann dynasty television series joan collins

Joan Collins and Diahann Carroll in "Dynasty" ca. 1985. — ABC via Getty Images

Diahann Carroll broke television barriers in 1968 as the lead character in NBC's Julia, becoming the first black actress to star in her own series. In 1984, she did it again, as the glamorous invader of the all-white environment of nighttime soaps as Dynasty's Dominique Deveraux.

On Jan. 22 Carroll, now 77, appears in the PBS Pioneers of Television segment "Primetime Soaps," which is a look at over-the-top 1980s-era hits such as Dallas and Dynasty.

Diahann Carroll  has also been a singer and Broadway star, and continues to work on popular shows from Grey's Anatomy to White Collar. The oft-married grandmother — once engaged to Sidney Poitier — talked to us about her role in integrating primetime TV, lessons learned from more than five decades as an entertainer, and what it was like to swap slaps with Joan Collins.

diahann carroll julia television show 1969

Diahann Carroll on the set of "Julia" in 1969. — Bettmann/CORBIS

Q. What concerns did you have about taking the title role in Julia back when TV was far from integrated?

A. I thought it would be a glorious idea, but the thought of [moving to California and] not being in New York really frightened me. I'm a staunch New Yorker. My parents were there. I married there, I had a baby. And I could see the controversy, that this was considered a major step forward in terms of television shows starring black actors. Fortunately, we went on the air and it was received very well. But in order to make that step, a lot of adjustments had to be made for a little New York lady who thought the world revolved around New York City.

Q. Talk about how you ended up on Dynasty —a world of rich white people with big hair and big shoulder pads.

A. I saw the show and I thought, "Oh, this is absolutely a hoot, I love it." I thought it would be great fun if they thought that I could fit into this. And so my manager and I approached them, and [we had] a meeting. I was absolutely thrilled [to get the part]. I just loved the opportunity to put this character, Dominique Deveraux, on screen. We were all very excited — we knew that it would be the talk of the town.

Q. There was at least one episode where you and Joan Collins were fighting, hitting and kicking each other. What was it like filming those scenes?

A. I think we loved it, Joan and I. I said, "We have to fight more often." It was funny, and it was also very much what the audience wanted at that time. With the clothes and the hair, it was very clear that we were actually doing this show as a send-up, and I think we did it very well. Of course, we had to fight to make the dialogue overcome the wardrobe [laughs]. I don't know if we ever won that war.

Next page: See Diahann Carroll today. »

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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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