Legendary One Life To Live Star Ellen Holly Has Passed Away

Soap Hub

The actress was a daytime icon.

The actress was a daytime icon.Photo bySoap Hub

Ellen Holly, who took part in a controversial storyline on One Life to Live after she joined the ABC soap in October 1968, has died at the age of 92.

Ellen Holly — A Daytime Legend

“Remembering my cousin Ellen Holly this morning, who passed last night,” wrote Grant Shipp on Facebook on December 6. “She was a pioneer in daytime television. Starring on One Life to Live for 20 years. Playing Lawrence [Fishbourne’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.”

One of those “greatest black actors” mentioned — Robert Hooks (Backstairs at the Whitehouse; N.Y.P.D.), also weighed in on her passing. “Today my heart is truly saddened, losing one of my greatest friends, Ellen Holly,” Hooks wrote. “RIP, dear brilliant Ellen.”

Holly was born on January 16, 1931, in New York City. She performed on the New York stage in several productions, starting with 1956’s Too Late the Phalarope. In 1960, she performed the role of Elizabeth in Face of a Hero. She was Cille in Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright in 1962. In 1966, she was in A Hand Is on the Gate.

Her first role on TV was in 1957 on an episode of The Big Story, playing the role of Betty. In 1959, she appeared in Take A Giant Step, and a few years later, she had a role on The Defenders. A few more episodic guest spots followed but it would be on daytime that she would have her greatest impact.

On October 7, 1968, Holly joined OLTL as Carla, a white woman who was dating a white man, but was also attracted to a black doctor. It was a revolutionary story at the time, one meant to make the audience examine their own prejudices. Later, Clara’s mother, Sadie (Lillian Heyman), spotted her daughter and cried out, “Clara!” — Carla’s true name.

“Agnes [Nixon, OLTL’s creator] wanted to take the viewers and have them become involved with a character, believing that character to be one thing,” Holly shared with Soap Hub (in an interview here). That way, when the character’s true identity was revealed, if a viewer’s feelings about her changed, “the viewer would have her eyes opened up as to how she must be prejudiced.”

Carla met and fell in love with Captain Ed Hall (Al Freeman, Jr.) of the Llanview police department. The characters were wed in 1973. Holly last appeared on the soap in 1985.

After her iconic role on OLTL, the actress appeared in numerous other TV roles, including a recurring part on In The Heat of the Night as well as appearances Spenser: For Hire. She would later appear on Guiding Light as Judge Frances Collier between 1988-1993. Judge Collier oversaw cases involving Phillip (Grant Aleksander), Beth (Beth Chamberlin), and Harley (Beth Ehlers). Her last television credit was in 2002 in the TV movie, 10,000 Black Men Named George. Holly was also in the 1988 film School Daze, which reunited her with her OLTL onscreen son, Laurence Fishbourne.

In 1996, Holly’s memoir, One Life: An Autobiography of an African American Actress, was published. The tome details her relationship with Harry Belafonte and also many other parts of her life.

Soap Hub sends condolences to friends, family, and fans of Ellen Holly during this difficult time.

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