Trailblazing actress Ellen Holly of White Plains, star of 'One Life to Live', dies at 92

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Ellen Holly, the first Black person to have a lead role on a daytime television show and a White Plains resident, died on Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 92.

Her publicist Cheryl L. Duncan said Holly died at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx.

The trailblazing actress and New York native was most known for starring as Carla Gray on ABC's hit soap opera "One Life to Live" from 1968 to 1985. Her character pushed boundaries and sparked controversy when Gray's storyline followed her struggle to come to terms with her racial identity and her involvement in a love triangle between a Black man and a white man.

Ellen Holly lived in White Plains and served as a librarian at the White Plains Library from the 1990s until her death on Wednesday, Dec. 7. She was 92
Ellen Holly lived in White Plains and served as a librarian at the White Plains Library from the 1990s until her death on Wednesday, Dec. 7. She was 92

In her later years, Holly moved to White Plains, where she served as a librarian at the White Plains Library. Duncan said Holly referred to her career at the library as "some of the happiest days of her life."

Holly was born in 1931 to a prominent Black family. Her great-grandmother was the first African American woman to earn a medical doctorate in New York state. Her family was involved in getting Black families to settle in the historic Weeksville neighborhood in Brooklyn, founded by formerly enslaved people during the 19th century.

Holly grew up in Richmond Hill, Queens. She attended Hunter College, where she began acting in stage roles in the 1950s. She landed her first television role on "The Big Story" in 1957. She starred in other shows like "Sam Benedict" and "Doctor Kildare" before playing Carla Gray.

Duncan said Holly was personally chosen for the role after a television producer read a New York Times opinion piece she wrote called "How Black Do You Have To Be?" about the struggle to find roles as a light-skinned Black woman.

Her role in "One Life to Live" opened the door for Black roles to be cast on other soap operas like "All My Children" and "General Hospital."

Holly wrote "One Life: The Autobiography of an African-American Actress," which detailed her experience as an actress during the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.

Ellen Holly's autobiography One Life: The Autobiography of an African-American actress, which chronicled her life and struggles as a light-skinned Black actress.
Ellen Holly's autobiography One Life: The Autobiography of an African-American actress, which chronicled her life and struggles as a light-skinned Black actress.

She wrote that despite the acclaim she received from her role, she was underpaid and mistreated along with other Black actors on the show. She continued acting in small television and movie roles into the 1990s, including on "The Guiding Light" soap from 1988 to 1993 and in Spike Lee's "School Daze."

Duncan said there will be no funeral. Holly's family asks that donations be made to The Obama Presidential Center or St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Ellen Holly, first Black actress on daytime television, dies at 92