Carol Diane Johnson probably never thought she'd be cultural icon when she was studying to be a performing artist while growing up in New York City.
But as Diahann Carroll, she became just that, representing a confident, strong black woman in the many movies and television shows she starred in. She had a lot of support from her parents, although she later told Johnny Carson that her grandmother thought that movies were immoral. Ha.
She had a role in Carmen Jones, the all-black 1954 contemporary remake of Bizet's Carmen, at the mere age of nineteen, playing a rival to Dorothy Dandridge's title character. That same year, she appeared in the Broadway musical House of Flowers, about neighboring bordellos in a Caribbean setting.
From then on Ms. Carroll became a popular guest on variety TV shows in addition to prominent roles in movies like the 1959 film version of Porgy and Bess, as Clara (although she mimed to another singer's voice), and the 1961 film Paris Blues. In 1962, she starred as a fashion model in Paris in the musical No Strings and won the Best Actress Tony - the first black woman to win that award.
One of the highlights of Diahann Carroll's career greatest moment was her NBC series "Julia," about Julia Baker, a widowed nurse who works at a doctor's office while raising a son on her own. It was the first TV series to depict a black female character in a profession other than as a domestic worker. The series ran for three seasons and 86 episodes beginning in 1968. Then in 1974, she starred in a movie that, like "Julia," featured her in a first-name title role - Claudine, about a single mom on welfare who falls in love with a garbage man played by James Earl Jones. The role got her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Diahann Carroll has done numerous TV shows and movies over the years, including a star turn on the prime-time soap "Dynasty" that cast her opposite Billy Dee Williams, a classmate of hers from New York's Music and Art High School. Oh yeah, she's recorded a lot of LPs, mainly of jazz and pop standards. Is she a cultural icon? This mere sample of her career should settle that question. :-)
Fun fact: Diahann Carroll was married to singer Vic Damone for nine years beginning in 1987.