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MGM-Mixed Celebrity: 'Ellen Holly'

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  • multiracialbookclub
    ELLEN HOLLY S ONE LIFE [One Life: The Autobiography of an African American Actress]
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 14, 2008
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      ELLEN HOLLY'S "ONE LIFE"

                      
      One Life: The Autobiography of an African American Actress


      Name:                                   Ellen Holly
      Occupation:                       Actress
      Race:                                     Mixed-Race 
      Ethnicity:                            African-American

      __________     _   ____________________________


      [The book] One Life: The Autobiography
      of an African-American Actress
      relates
      the life of the wonderful Ellen Holly (a.k.a.
      'One Life to Live's' own 'Carla' Gray Hall Scott).

      Holly's book tells us more than
      the bare bones of her life.

      She shares with us the loves of her
      life (most notably Harry Belafonte),
      and her experiences working with
      some of today's most celebrated actors,
      including Cicely Tyson, Jack Lemmon,
      and James Earl Jones, and with her
      daytime co-stars Erika Slezak,
      Lillian Hayman, and Robin Strasser.

      [The daytime television serial, in which she 
      played her most well-known role, 'One Life
      to Live' (OLTL)] figures into only a
      relatively small portion of the book.

      Above all else, One Life is an exciting testimony
      of what it means to be "black" [identified]
      now and what it meant thirty years ago.

      Holly starred in twenty-three plays and
      had two film roles, along with numerous
      television guest-appearances.

      She is also known to daytime audiences
      from her five-year stint as Judge
      Frances Collier on 'Guiding Light'.

      But her most famous role is her seventeen-year
      run as 'Carla', a role that has earned her not
      only a prominent place in 'One Life to Live'
      history, but in television history as well…

      Cleverly, the story of 'Carla' began
      with the audience encouraged to
      assume that she was 'White'.

      She worked in Llanview Hospital on one side
      of town, going by the name of 'Carla' Benari.

      On the other side of town we got
      to know Sadie, whose daughter
      'Clara' had died nine years earlier.

      The stories of these two women did not
      appear to have any bearing on each other,
      but following what Holly describes as Nixon's
      "brilliant exploitation of the soap opera
      genre's full potential" the two women,
      after seven months of careful plotting
      and build-up, faced each other at the
      end of an episode in a deserted hallway,
      with this exchange after a stunned pause:

      Sadie: 'Clara'!
      'Carla': Mama!


      The story of 'Carla' Gray turned out to be
      one of a young "black" woman passing for
      white, in order to enjoy the benefits and
      opportunities of the white world.

      The social relevance of the story sent shock
      waves through the world of daytime, lit up
      the ABC switchboards, and inspired at least
      one affiliate to refuse to air the show.

      According to Holly, it also attracted black viewers
      by the score, secured unusually high ratings
      for a new soap opera, and helped to balance
      the stigma that soaps were frivilous fluff.

      And it made Ellen Holly a star of the genre.

      She was asked to write an article in '
      The New
      York Times' about her work on the show, the
      most serious treatment that the genre of soaps
      had yet received in the esteemed paper.

      She was sought after by magazines such as
      'Ebony', which ran a glamorous photo spread
      to mark the occassion of Carla's wedding
      when that storyline aired.

      Holly couldn't wait to get to the soundstage
      every day, and marveled at the peculiarities and
      challenges of the new medium of soap operas.

      But what started as a job that she loved
      and was praised for became wrenching.

      Although she made many friends in the other actors
      and actresses on the show, it would seem that most
      of her memories of her time in Llanview are painful  

      She sings the praises of Robin Strasser ("more
      snap and style than almost anyone in daytime"),
      Al Freeman Jr., Lillian Hayman ("she became my
      second mother"), and Gillian Spencer, among others,

      but she calls Erika Slezak "a rookie performer...
      without a single significant credit to [her] name."

      Besides being unimpressed with Slezak's
      credits, Holly cites an interview that
      Slezak gave to Soap Opera Digest circa
      July of 1988 that deeply offended her.

      "We don't have poor people in Llanview,"
      said Slezak in order to promote OLTL.
      "We don't have any more
      black people in Llanview.
      We have no ethnic people.
      No, this is now a story about
      rich people and richer people.
      We're all `haves' now."

      Ms. Holly took this statement as a slap in the face.

      She felt that this statement minimized her own place
      in establishing the reality and quality that has
      come to be expected of '
      One Life to Live'.

      Holly offers a fascinating glimpse into the hierachy of soap
      business politics, and into the frustrations of acting amid a
      corrosive work atmosphere, when she recounts her years
      on the show opposite an actor she pseudonyms as "Martin".

      Paired on-screen as lovers, but contemptuous of each
      other off camera, Holly vividly writes about their
      battles with each other, both personal and professional.

      The book also paints an interesting portrait of OLTL's
      creator, Agnes Nixon, that is mostly flattering in regards
      to her creative gifts and her personal character.

      Ms. Holly has much to say about producer Paul Rauch
      (currently of 'Guiding Light') but none of it is good.

      According to Holly, Rauch took pleasure in humiliating
      her in front of the other actors, and in finally firing her
      from the show after seventeen years at 'OLTL' during
      an early morning impromptu meeting, informing her:
      "When your contract's up I'm dropping you!
      You're just not worth it to me!"

      Closely following these events and Holly's termination
      at OLTL, her on-screen mother, actress Lillian Hayman,
      was fired by "a minor functionary" on the show,
      who stopped her in the parking garage to blurt out:
      "Paul Rauch wants you to know that you've
      just worked your last day on the show!"

      Thus, the only remaining original cast member on the show was
      dismissed, without being given notice, an interview with the
      producer, or the dignity to clean out her dressing room!

      These and other even more surprising revelations fill this book.

      I was outraged by what I read, and would forgive Ellen Holly a
      whole of bitterness from reading some of the injustices she endured.

      But One Life is ultimately not about bitterness or indictments of racism.

      One Life isn't even about OLTL.

      It is about Holly's life, and her personal journey toward
      reconciling her life, her identity, and her career.

      So, without meeting her, without ever having read
      her play, without ever having seen her act or speak,
      I feel that I have known Ellen Holly intimately from this book.

      I have known and felt her hopes, her dreams,
      and her pain, and I love her for them.

      One Life is a must-read not only for 'One Life to Live' fans,
      but for anyone who appreciates an autobiography where
      strength and courage win out over indignation and self-doubt...

      One Life: The Autobiography of
      an African-American Actress
      is
      published by Kodansha America




      RELATED LINKS:

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1568361580/102-1697333-0191304?v=glance&n=28315\5&s=books&v=glance


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