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One Life to Live’s Ellen Holly Talks Her Groundbreaking Role And Struggles As Carla Gray

Courtesy/TVAcademyFoudation

In a sit-down video interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Ellen Holly best-known for her iconic and groundbreaking role on One Life to Live as “Carla Gray” talks about being the first African-American actress with a continuing major role on a soap opera and the turmoil behind it.

Throughout the over four and half hour’s of interview conducted with Holly, the actress chronicles her struggles with One Life’s creator Agnes Nixon, and various producers to be paid fairly, while also asking for good and dramatic storylines.

Photo: ABC

Holly recalls leaving One Life to Live in 1980, and returning in 1983, only to be fired by then-producer Paul Rauch at the end of her contract.  She discusses what she feels was poor treatment by the network and several producers of One Life to Live, and what she learned from that experience.

There are lots of stories, and behind the scenes moments through the viewpoint of Ellen, as well as how important it was at the time to be cast is such a key role in 1968.

From advice for actors, the civil rights movement, diversity in television, events and behind the scenes stories with her co-stars and producer at One Life, pivotal career moments and more, all of it was covered with the TV Academy Foundation

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Now below check out a six segments relating to Holly’s experience and time on OLTL.  Let us know what you thought about what she had to say via the comment section.

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RICKIE BOGUILLE
RICKIE BOGUILLE

Always loved Ellen Holly and Carla! (From the narrative and having read her book, I presume her dressing room was given away to Jacquie Courtney and her co-star of less sexual wattage than Peter De Anda and Robert Milli was Herb Davis.) However, she misrepresents the span of time Lillian Hayman was on “One Life.” Lillian left about 1970 (replaced by Hilda Haynes and Esther Rolle) and didn’t return to the show full-time until 1977 (the show was 45 minutes at this point; original cast member Doris Belack had been fired and replaced a few weeks prior). Sadie did, however, return to the show briefly for Carla’s wedding to Ed Hall (circa 1973). When Sadie returned full-time, the writers had created a backstory whereby Sadie once worked for Will and Naomi Vernon as their nanny/housekeeper before becoming housekeeping supervisor at Llanview Hospital (Holly erroneously reports in her book that Sadie worked for the Siegels, the last of which had left months before the introduction of the Vernons in 1976.)

Holly is correct, however, in the show’s re-positioning of Carla beginning in the 1970s. She became a supporting character, whereas she was a leading lady during her first couple of years or so. She had some high notes in her following decade on the show — Carla and Ed taking in young street smart Joshua West and her second marriage (to Dr. Jack Scott, played by an actor whom she despised). However, Holly and her audience deserved better — the actress was an asset and drawing card, and evocative of the show’s glorious early years.

Jamesj75
Jamesj75

Rickie, thanks so much for providing such detail and filling in the blanks. I, too, watched OLTL during that time, but my memory of that show is not as vivid.

What I do remember, however, is the mesmerizing allure of Ellen Holly as Carla Gray. A great actress in a groundbreaking storyline — for any medium!

I must thank Michael Fairman for this illuminating feature, including snippets of this riveting interview. For me, it’s so enjoyable when the early days of soaps are honored — and deservedly so!

Steve
Steve

There doesn’t seem to be any love lost between Holly and Erika Slezak, who she refers to as “the third Viki”

M J
M J

Lol @ the third Viki. Yikes! That hurt MY feelings…

I started watching OLTL as kid in the late 70s, so I missed the initial groundbreaking Carla Benari/Grey storyline, but I fondly remember Miss Holly during the Ed Hall era. It really is heartbreaking how she and Miss Hayman were relegated to bit players when they were clearly and integral factor in the shows success.

And speaking of the third Viki, I would imagine that the overwhelming majority of the remaining OLTL fans could never fathom anyone in the role of Victoria Lord Riley Burke Riley Buchanan Buchanan Carpenter Davidson Banks/Niki Smith/Jean Randolph/Torrie/Tommy/Princess/Victor Lord, other than the incomparable Erika Slezak. I have heard many times that her work doesn’t even come close to what Gillian Spencer gave to the role (albiet as an only twice married Viki with only one alter). I have never seen any of those scenes, and have only seen two or three stills of her in the role. I believe all the original video from the first few years of the show was rerecorded over or destroyed. Tragic! What I would give to see just a few of those original episodes featuring Miss Holly, Miss Hayman and Miss Spencer, who I grew up watching portray another iconic soap character on another iconic Agnes Nixon soap..;)

RICKIE BOGUILLE
RICKIE BOGUILLE

LOL. I was thinking the same thing. In her book, she raves about Gillian Spencer (the original Victoria Lord) and mentions that Joanne Dorian (her replacement) was a good actress who was physically a Xerox copy of Ms. Spencer (the actresses only vaguely looked similar, as I recall). Re: Erika Slezak — I was impressed she had so much chemistry with Lee Patterson (Joe Riley) when he returned to the show (Slezak was cast with Bernard Grant as her love interest; she hadn’t worked with Patterson during his first run). However, Slezak wasn’t a major draw for me personally. Ellen Holly, Lynn Benish (Meredith), Dorrie Kavanaugh (Cathy), Lee Warrick (Julie) and Nancy Pinkerton (the fabulous original Dorian Cramer) were more of a draw for me through the early 1970s.

M J
M J

In going back over the history of the the show, ES didn’t seem to be much of a stand out until they brought back Niki Smith. Prior to that, I believe both Judith Light and Robin Strasser had won Emmys before Slezak won her first. Viki could be quite dull and one note. They really milked the DID storyline to the point of ridicule. As a kid, I remembered it being poignant and heartbreaking to see Viki succumb to Niki Smith. After a while, it just looked like the writers drug out Niki whenever they didn’t know what to do with Viki, or they just wanted cheap comic relief.

nancy dillingham
nancy dillingham

Yes–soaps historical OVERDO a once-good thing. 🙁

Thad Bosley
Thad Bosley

When I watch Ellen Holly, I feel as though I am witnessing a remake of Captain Queeg’s Court Martial in The Caine Mutiny. Whew… creepy.

Isisdawonder
Isisdawonder

I watched all of this interview. I have her book as well. She dropped quite a bit of info from her years on the show and beyond. Well worth viewing. She is quite knowledgeable of the business and how the game is played. It IS a shame how she and others were treated by those in power at ABC. She deserved better.

fginaspy
fginaspy

I have always loved Ellen Holly. She is a beautiful and talented actress. She still is. I am sorry TPTB treated her so badly. Thank you Michael Fairman for sharing these videos.

Adrienne
Adrienne

Ellen Holly’s the reason I began watching OLTL beginning at age five with my big brother and two aunts. I never understood why she suddenly disappeared until reading her book years later. you Ms. Holly

nancy dillingham
nancy dillingham

So sorry–evil lurks everywhere.

TomJ
TomJ

I was only 5 years old when OLTL debuted and I watched with my mom and my great aunt. I loved Ellen Holly. Funny that even at my you g age, I never saw Ellen as a supporting or secondary role. She was always a a main star of OLTL in my eyes. Her words in this interview are a much needed cautionary tale for everyone who is new act acting.

Violet Lemm
Violet Lemm

I was just a young mother, years ago when watching the most romantic relationship between Carla and Ed. I also loved watching Ms. Holly many years ago in The Heat of The Night with Carroll O’Connor. What a two for one treat that was.

Yolanda
Yolanda

When was she on In The Heat Of The Night with Caroll O’Connor? If you are thinking of the actress he married on there, that was Denise Nicholas of Room 222 fame, Blacula, and other shows and movies.

Violet Lemm
Violet Lemm

She played Ruth Peterson from 1989 to 1990. You can Google it, if you like.

Yolanda
Yolanda

Gotcha. But Denise Nicholas has been misidentified often as other actresses. I didnt know Ellen Holly was ever on there..but I only watched it about half the time

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