Ellen Holly

Actress


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tab

About
About this interview

In her four-and-a-half hour interview, Ellen Holly talks about her early life, and her paternal family tree going back to the 1700s. She discusses becoming interested in acting, and her big Broadway breakthrough in “Too Late the Phalarope.” She recalls attending the Actors Studio at the request of Lee Strasberg, and the problems of being an African-American actress who appeared to be “too light.” She talks extensively about her groundbreaking role as “Carla Gray” on the daytime drama One Life to Live and being the first African-American actress with a continuing daily lead role on a soap opera. She chronicles her struggles with show creator Agnes Nixon and various producers to be paid a fair wage and given good storylines. 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 coming to the painful realization that she had been treated shabbily by the network and the producers of One Life to Live, and what she learned from that experience. She concludes by talking about attending Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963 with her aunt Anna Arnold Hedgemen. Adrienne Faillace conducted the interview on May 29, 2018 in White Plains, NY.

"Fan magazines were wonderful to me. It was so exciting to them to have the first black somebody in daytime. I was the one doing the glamour layouts."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Ellen Holly on the formula for One Life to Live, taught to Agnes Nixon by Irna Phillips
Ellen Holly on being called to audition for One Life to Live
Ellen Holly on learning why she was chosen to be on One Life to Live by producer Agnes Nixon and ABC executive Brandon Stoddard
Ellen Holly on how she would like to be remembered, and on being at the 1963 March on Washington with her aunt Anna Arnold Hedgeman
Ellen Holly on her difficulties playing opposite the actor who portrayed "Dr. Jack Scott" on One Life to Live, which led to her first exit from the show
Ellen Holly on starring in the play "Orchids in the Moonlight" at the American Repertory Theatre
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On her early life, her parents, and her maternal family tree
On her paternal family tree going back to the 1700s
On her education and on becoming interested in acting; on being discovered as an actress by Charlotte Perry; on the challenges early on of finding parts as a black actress, and on being cast in the Broadway production of "Too Late the Phalarope"
On appearing as "Stephanie" in the Broadway production of "Too Late the Phalarope," and on how she played the role; on the impact appearing in "Too Late the Phalarope" had on her career as an African-American actress
On being invited to join the Actors Studio by Lee Strasberg; on what she learned at the Actors Studio, and why she didn't like Strasberg as a teacher; on guest-starring on Dr. Kildare, and on having to wear make-up to make her skin appear darker for the show
On how typecasting boxes in actors, particularly African-Americans; on the difficulties faced by an African-American actress who is considered "too light"; on writing "The New York Times" article "How Black Do You Have to Be?" and on the reaction to it

Chapter 2

On being called to audition for One Life to Live; on her first day playing "Carla Gray" on One Life to Live
On her groundbreaking early storyline on One Life to Live, where she was the first black actress to play a central character on a daytime drama; on working with the crew of the show and with show creator Agnes Nixon
On One Life to Live creator Agnes Nixon, and on Nixon inviting her to have input to her character, "Carla Gray"; on the formula for One Life to Live, taught to Agnes Nixon by Irna Phillips; on being disappointed by some of her storylines a year into One Life to Live
On her difficulties renewing her One Life to Live contract after the first year; on Agnes Nixon pairing One Life to Live with All My Children; on various cast changes and additions early on in her time on One Life to Live
On Al Freeman, Jr. as "Captain Ed Hall" on One Life to Live; on Agnes Nixon selling One Life to Live; on soap fan magazines reaction to her as "Carla Gray" on One Life to Live, and on what her fans wanted for the character

Chapter 3

On going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan; on the fallout from her going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan
On proposing a storyline for One Life to Live in which her character, "Carla Gray," has an affair; on casting an actor for her character, "Carla Gray," to have an affair with on One Life to Live
On her difficulties playing opposite the actor who portrayed "Dr. Jack Scott" on One Life to Live, which led to her first exit from the show; on starring in the play "Orchids in the Moonlight" at the American Repertory Theatre; on returning to One Life to Live after a three-year absence

Chapter 4

On One Life to Live's producer Jean Arley leaving the show, and Paul Rauch taking her place; on One Life to Live's producer Paul Rauch telling her to change her voice for the show; on her and Lillian Hayman being fired from the show by producer Paul Rauch
On writing her autobiography; on coming to a late realization about One Life to Live and Agnes Nixon; on learning why she was chosen to be on One Life to Live by producer Agnes Nixon and ABC executive Brandon Stoddard
On mentors Michael Kahn and Joseph Papp (Ed. note: Ms. Holly would like to note that Charlotte Perry was also an important mentor, in addition to Michael Kahn and Joseph Papp); on coming to terms with her time on One Life to Live and with Agnes Nixon; on what she learned from her time on One Life to Live, including advice she would give to young actors about the business-end of television
On having been the focus of the first year of One Life to Live, and on fears by the producers of it becoming a "black show"; on her career in theater; on appearing on the cover of "Ebony"
On the crew of One Life to Live; on how she would like to be remembered, and on being at the 1963 March on Washington with her aunt Anna Arnold Hedgeman; on getting to tell her story from her point of view for the first time

Chapter 5

Informal B-Roll with additional photographs, family history, and supplemental information- headshot of One Life to Live actress Lillian Hayman; chart of her annual One Life to Live salary; early headshot of Ellen Holly; publicity of Ellen Holly for the feature "Take a Giant Step"; a favorite picture of Ellen Holly from the 1970s; various photos of her family
Shows

All My Children

View Show Page
Ellen Holly on Agnes Nixon pairing One Life to Live with All My Children

Dr. Kildare

View Show Page
Ellen Holly on guest-starring on Dr. Kildare, and on having to wear make-up to make her skin appear darker for the show

One Life to Live

View Show Page
Ellen Holly on being called to audition for One Life to Live
Ellen Holly on her first day playing "Carla Gray" on One Life to Live
Ellen Holly on her groundbreaking early storyline on One Life to Live, where she was the first black actress to play a central character on a daytime drama, and on working with the crew of the show and show creator Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on One Life to Live creator Agnes Nixon, and on Nixon inviting her to have input to her character, "Carla Gray"
Ellen Holly on the formula for One Life to Live, taught to Agnes Nixon by Irna Phillips
Ellen Holly on being disappointed by some of her storylines a year into One Life to Live
Ellen Holly on her difficulties renewing her One Life to Live contract after the first year
Ellen Holly on Agnes Nixon pairing One Life to Live with All My Children
Ellen Holly on various cast changes and additions early on in her time on One Life to Live
Ellen Holly on Al Freeman, Jr. as "Captain Ed Hall" on One Life to Live
Ellen Holly on Agnes Nixon selling One Life to Live to ABC
Ellen Holly on soap fan magazines reaction to her as "Carla Gray" on One Life to Live, and on what her fans wanted for the character
Ellen Holly on going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan
Ellen Holly on the fallout from her going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan
Ellen Holly on proposing a storyline for One Life to Live in which her character, "Carla Gray," has an affair
Ellen Holly on casting an actor for her character, "Carla Gray," to have an affair with on One Life to Live
Ellen Holly on her difficulties playing opposite the actor who portrayed "Dr. Jack Scott" on One Life to Live, which led to her first exit from the show
Ellen Holly on returning to One Life to Live after a three-year absence
Ellen Holly on One Life to Live's producer Jean Arley leaving One Life to Live, and Paul Rauch taking her place
Ellen Holly on One Life to Live's producer Paul Rauch telling her to change her voice for the show
Ellen Holly on her and Lillian Hayman being fired from One Life to Live by producer Paul Rauch
Ellen Holly on coming to a late realization about One Life to Live and Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on finally learning why she was chosen to be on One Life to Live by producer Agnes Nixon and ABC executive Brandon Stoddard
Ellen Holly on coming to terms with her time on One Life to Live and with Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on what she learned from her time on One Life to Live, including advice she would give to young actors about the business-end of television
Ellen Holly on having been the focus of the first year of One Life to Live, and on the producers' fears of it becoming a "black show"
Ellen Holly on the crew of One Life to Live
Topics

Advice

View Topic
Ellen Holly on what she learned from her time on One Life to Live, including advice she would give to young actors about the business-end of television

Civil Rights Movement

View Topic
Ellen Holly on being at the 1963 March on Washington with her aunt Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Creative Influences and Inspiration

View Topic
Ellen Holly on mentors Michael Kahn and Joseph Papp (Ed. note: Ms. Holly would like to note that Charlotte Perry was also an important mentor, in addition to Michael Kahn and Joseph Papp)

Diversity in Television

View Topic
Ellen Holly on the challenges early on of finding parts as a black actress, and on being cast in the Broadway production of "Too Late the Phalarope"
Ellen Holly on how typecasting boxes in actors, particularly African-Americans
Ellen Holly on the difficulties faced by an African-American actress who is considered "too light"
Ellen Holly on writing "The New York Times" article "How Black Do You Have to Be?" and on the reaction to it
Ellen Holly on guest-starring on Dr. Kildare, and on having to wear make-up to make her skin appear darker for the show
Ellen Holly on her groundbreaking early storyline on One Life to Live, where she was the first black actress to play a central character on a daytime drama, and on working with the crew of the show and show creator Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on her difficulties renewing her One Life to Live contract after the first year
Ellen Holly on going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan
Ellen Holly on the fallout from her going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan
Ellen Holly on her difficulties playing opposite the actor who portrayed "Dr. Jack Scott" on One Life to Live, which led to her first exit from the show
Ellen Holly on her and Lillian Hayman being fired from One Life to Live by producer Paul Rauch
Ellen Holly on coming to a late realization about One Life to Live and about Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on finally learning why she was chosen to be on One Life to Live by producer Agnes Nixon and ABC executive Brandon Stoddard
Ellen Holly on having been the focus of the first year of One Life to Live, and on the producers' fears of it becoming a "black show"

First Big Break

View Topic
Ellen Holly on being discovered as an actress by Charlotte Perry
Ellen Holly on appearing as "Stephanie" in the Broadway production of "Too Late the Phalarope"

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
Ellen Holly on the challenges early on of finding parts as a black actress, and on being cast in the Broadway production of "Too Late the Phalarope"
Ellen Holly on how typecasting boxes in actors, particularly African-Americans
Ellen Holly on the difficulties faced by an African-American actress who is considered "too light"
Ellen Holly on writing "The New York Times" article "How Black Do You Have to Be?" and on the reaction to it
Ellen Holly on guest-starring on Dr. Kildare, and on having to wear make-up to make her skin appear darker for the show
Ellen Holly on her groundbreaking early storyline on One Life to Live, where she was the first black actress to play a central character on a daytime drama, and on working with the crew of the show and show creator Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on her difficulties renewing her One Life to Live contract after the first year
Ellen Holly on going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan
Ellen Holly on the fallout from her going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan
Ellen Holly on her difficulties playing opposite the actor who portrayed "Dr. Jack Scott" on One Life to Live, which led to her first exit from the show
Ellen Holly on her and Lillian Hayman being fired from One Life to Live by producer Paul Rauch
Ellen Holly on coming to a late realization about One Life to Live and about Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on finally learning why she was chosen to be on One Life to Live by producer Agnes Nixon and ABC executive Brandon Stoddard
Ellen Holly on having been the focus of the first year of One Life to Live, and on the producers' fears of it becoming a "black show"
Ellen Holly on being at the 1963 March on Washington with her aunt Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Memorable Moments on Television

View Topic
Ellen Holly on being at the 1963 March on Washington with her aunt Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Minorities

View Topic
Ellen Holly on how typecasting boxes in actors, particularly African-Americans
Ellen Holly on the difficulties faced by an African-American actress who is considered "too light"
Ellen Holly on writing "The New York Times" article "How Black Do You Have to Be?" and on the reaction to it
Ellen Holly on guest-starring on Dr. Kildare, and on having to wear make-up to make her skin appear darker for the show
Ellen Holly on her groundbreaking early storyline on One Life to Live, where she was the first black actress to play a central character on a daytime drama, and on working with the crew of the show and show creator Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on her difficulties renewing her One Life to Live contract after the first year
Ellen Holly on going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan
Ellen Holly on the fallout from her going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan
Ellen Holly on her difficulties playing opposite the actor who portrayed "Dr. Jack Scott" on One Life to Live, which led to her first exit from the show
Ellen Holly on her and Lillian Hayman being fired from One Life to Live by producer Paul Rauch
Ellen Holly on coming to a late realization about One Life to Live and about Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on finally learning why she was chosen to be on One Life to Live by producer Agnes Nixon and ABC executive Brandon Stoddard
Ellen Holly on having been the focus of the first year of One Life to Live, and on the producers' fears of it becoming a "black show"

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Ellen Holly on being discovered as an actress by Charlotte Perry
Ellen Holly on appearing as "Stephanie" in the Broadway production of "Too Late the Phalarope"
Ellen Holly on mentors Michael Kahn and Joseph Papp (Ed. note: Ms. Holly would like to note that Charlotte Perry was also an important mentor, in addition to Michael Kahn and Joseph Papp)

Television Industry

View Topic
Ellen Holly on her difficulties renewing her One Life to Live contract after the first year
Ellen Holly on Agnes Nixon selling One Life to Live to ABC
Ellen Holly on what she learned from her time on One Life to Live, including advice she would give to young actors about the business-end of television

We Considered

View Topic
Ellen Holly on being at the 1963 March on Washington with her aunt Anna Arnold Hedgeman
Professions

Actress

View Profession
Ellen Holly on appearing as "Stephanie" in the Broadway production of "Too Late the Phalarope," and on how she played the role
Ellen Holly on being invited to join the Actors Studio by Lee Strasberg
Ellen Holly on what she learned at the Actors Studio, and why she didn't like Lee Strasberg as a teacher
Ellen Holly on what she learned from her time on One Life to Live, including advice she would give to young actors about the business-end of television

Performers

View Profession
Ellen Holly on appearing as "Stephanie" in the Broadway production of "Too Late the Phalarope," and on how she played the role
Ellen Holly on being invited to join the Actors Studio by Lee Strasberg
Ellen Holly on what she learned at the Actors Studio, and why she didn't like Lee Strasberg as a teacher
Ellen Holly on what she learned from her time on One Life to Live, including advice she would give to young actors about the business-end of television
Genres

Daytime/Primetime Serials

View Genre
Ellen Holly on playing "Carla Gray" on One Life to Live
Ellen Holly on playing "Carla Gray" on One Life to Live
Ellen Holly on playing "Carla Gray" on One Life to Live

Medical Dramas

View Genre
Ellen Holly on guest-starring on Dr. Kildare, and on having to wear make-up to make her skin appear darker for the show
People

Viola Davis

View Person Page
Ellen Holly on Viola Davis

Al Freeman, Jr.

View Person Page
Ellen Holly on Al Freeman, Jr. as "Captain Ed Hall" on One Life to Live

Agnes Nixon

View Interview Page
Ellen Holly on her groundbreaking early storyline on One Life to Live, where she was the first black actress to play a central character on a daytime drama, and on working with the crew of the show and show creator Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on One Life to Live creator Agnes Nixon, and on Nixon inviting her to have input to her character "Carla Gray"
Ellen Holly on the formula for One Life to Live, taught to Agnes Nixon by Irna Phillips
Ellen Holly on Agnes Nixon pairing One Life to Live with All My Children
Ellen Holly on Agnes Nixon selling One Life to Live to ABC
Ellen Holly on coming to a late realization about One Life to Live and Agnes Nixon
Ellen Holly on finally learning why she was chosen to be on One Life to Live by producer Agnes Nixon and ABC executive Brandon Stoddard
Ellen Holly on coming to terms with her time on One Life to Live and Agnes Nixon

Joseph Papp

View Person Page
Ellen Holly on mentors Michael Kahn and Joseph Papp (Ed. note: Ms. Holly would like to note that Charlotte Perry was also an important mentor, in addition to Michael Kahn and Joseph Papp)

Irna Phillips

View Person Page
Ellen Holly on the formula for One Life to Live, taught to Agnes Nixon by Irna Phillips

Doris Quinlan

View Person Page
Ellen Holly on the fallout from her going to bat for One Life to Live producer Doris Quinlan

Paul Rauch

View Person Page
Ellen Holly on One Life to Live's producer Jean Arley leaving One Life to Live, and Paul Rauch taking her place
Ellen Holly on One Life to Live's producer Paul Rauch telling her to change her voice for the show
Ellen Holly on her and Lillian Hayman being fired from One Life to Live by producer Paul Rauch

Brandon Stoddard

View Interview Page
Ellen Holly on finally learning why she was chosen to be on One Life to Live by producer Agnes Nixon and ABC executive Brandon Stoddard

Lee Strasberg

View Person Page
Ellen Holly on being invited to join the Actors Studio by Lee Strasberg
Ellen Holly on what she learned at the Actors Studio, and why she didn't like Lee Strasberg as a teacher

All Interviews

Q
S