Born Caroline Diahann Johnson in 1935, Carroll fought hard triumphs in showbiz. In 1962 — in the heat of the Civil Rights era — she earned a Tony for her turn as a fashion model in love with a white journalist in the musical No Strings; in 1974, she nabbed an Oscar nomination for her delightfully lively, titular performance as Claudine, a single, scrappy mom trying to raise her kids on welfare.
But it was Carroll’s work on Julia — the first television series centered on a professional African-American — that truly changed lives.
Few shows in TV history have arrived with as much buzz as the genial Julia. When it premiered opposite the entrenched Red Skelton Hour, it was a smash (it ranked number seven for the season in the Nielsens). Disregarding its determined foot in the door, critics derided the show as whitewashed, suggesting its depiction of an upbeat black character who worked and supported a child was somehow a disservice to, as one writer opined, “the bitter realities of Negro life in the urban ghetto.”
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