The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson

THE ART OF
KEVIN BLYTHE SAMPSON

11/19/10

Little-Known Black History Fact: Ellen Holly


In 1968, Ellen Holly became the first African-American actress to integrate a daytime television soap.

In 1968, Ellen Holly became the first African-American actress to integrate a daytime television soap.

Appearing on ABC’s “One Life to Live,” Holly wasn’t given the role of a black woman, but as a woman who passed for white, claiming to be Italian-American. Holly had been discovered by Agnes Nixon, the soap’s creator, after writing an article about the experience of being a light-skinned black woman for the New York Times in 1968.

Holly’s role as Carla Benari would make headlines when the script called for a kiss with Dr. Jim Craig, her African-American co-star. When the two kissed on screen, the switchboards at ABC networks lit up, wild with fans who thought a white woman was kissing a black man on screen.

The fact that Holly's character, Carla, was actually an African-American woman named Clara Grey posing as an Italian woman was revealed when black actress Sadie Grey, played by Lillian Hayman, was identified as her mother. Sadie would eventually convince her daughter to embrace her heritage and tell the truth about her color.

An accomplished writer as well as actress, Holly wrote much of the storyline for her character on “One Life to Live.” She is one of the few black writers in the soap opera genre. She later wrote a book, “One Life: The Autobiography of an African-American Actress” and would hold the role of Clara Grey from 1968 to 1981, and again from 1983 to 1985.
Little-Known Black History Fact: Ellen Holly