Daytime has lost a groundbreaking actress. Ellen Holly, best known for playing Carla Gray-Hall on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, passed away on Dec. 5 at the age of 92. The news was shared by her cousin, Grant Shipp, in a heartfelt Facebook post.
“She was a pioneer in daytime television,” he wrote. “Starring on One Life for 20 years. Playing Lawrence Fishburn’s mother on the show. She appeared in several movies and performed on stage with the greatest black actors of her generation. Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Cicely Tyson, Robert Hooks, James Earl Jones, to name a few. You had One Life to Live and it was an amazing Life. You were simply one of the best. Now you know the secret. God rest your soul.”
Launching her acting career on the stage in Broadway productions of Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright and A Hand Is on the Gate, Holly moved into television, appearing on shows like THE DEFENDERS and Dr. KILDARE before landing the role of Carla on OLTL in 1986. She remained with the soap until 1980, returning for another run from 1983-85.
Holly’s character broke new ground in soaps as OLTL creator Agnes Nixon was inspired by the actress’ real-life experience as a light-skinned African American. “For five months, the audience thought Carla was white,” Nixon told Soap Opera Digest in a 2012 interview. “She fell in love with Price Trainor, who was a Black resident [at the hospital] and people were outraged. The reveal of Carla’s true identity was a landmark moment in OLTL’s early history and came via Carla’s first on-screen encounter with her mother, Sadie, played by Lillian Hayman, who was the head of housekeeping at Llanview’s hospital.”
Holly could also be seen in Spike Lee’s 1988 feature film School Daze as well as episodes of the primetime series IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. And she returned to daytime to recur as Judge Frances Collier on CBS sudser GUIDING LIGHT in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Her final acting credit was the role of Selena Frey in the 2002 film 10,000 Black Men Named George.
Our thoughts are with Holly’s family and friends during this difficult time.