“One Life to Live” actress Ellen Holly, who became the first Black person to star on a soap opera, has died. She was 92.
Her publicist, Cheryl L. Duncan, confirmed the news late Thursday.
Holly first appeared on television in 1957 on “The Big Story.” But she’s perhaps best known for playing Carla Gray on “One Life to Live” in 522 episodes. She began her stay on the series in 1968 through 1980, before later returning from 1983 to 1985.
The Manhattan native was cast after producer Agnes Nixon read the actress’ New York Times opinion piece titled “How Black Do You Have To Be?”
In the article, Holly reflected on her personal difficulties working as a light-skinned Black woman.
Nixon signed Holly for a one-year contract for $300 a week. Her character Carla was a White-passing woman who’s race wasn’t revealed until the end of her first season. Carla’s “attempt to come to terms with her racial identity and her love triangle with two doctors” launched the show’s ratings “into the stratosphere,” according to Holly’s obituary.
Years earlier, Holly made her Broadway debut in 1956 in an adaptation of “Too Late the Phalarope.” Her other stage credits included “Face of a Hero,” “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright” and “A Hand Is on the Gate.”
The Hunter College graduate would go on to become became a librarian at White Plains Public Library in the 1990s.
“She referred to her years there as some of the happiest of her life,” her obituary states. “Holly had many friends and was a well-loved member of her White Plains community… She is sorely missed and mightily celebrated.”
Holly is survived by her grand-nieces, Alexa and Ashley Jones; their father, Xavier Jones and cousins, Wanda Parsons Harris, Julie Adams Strandberg, Carolyn Adams-Kahn and Clinton Arnold.
Donations can be made in Holly’s name to The Obama Presidential Center or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.