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A life member of The Actors Studio, Holly began her career on stage appearing in the Broadway productions of Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright and A Hand Is on the Gate before embarking on a television and film career. She guest starred on Sam Benedict and The Nurses before landing the role of actress-turned-Judge Clara "Carla" Hall on the ABC soap opera One Life to Live, a role she played from 1968 to 1981, and again from 1983 to 1985. Holly came to the attention of Agnes Nixon, the creator of One Life to Live, after writing a letter to the editor of The New York Times about what it was like to be a light-skinned African American. Nixon created the role of Carla and offered Holly a role on her new show.
When Holly began on One Life to Live in October 1968, her African-American heritage was not publicized as part of the storyline; her character, named Carla Benari, was a touring actress of apparently Italian American heritage. Carla and a Caucasian physician, Dr. Jim Craig, fell in love and became engaged. But she was falling for an African-American doctor. When the two kissed onscreen, it was reported that the switchboards at ABC were busy by fans who thought that the show had shown an African-American and Caucasian kissing. The fact that Carla was actually the African-American "Clara Grey" posing as Caucasian was revealed when Sadie Grey, played by Lillian Hayman, was identified as her mother. Sadie would eventually convince her daughter to embrace her heritage and tell the truth.
Holly left the series in 1981, but returned in 1983. According to her autobiography, One Life: The Autobiography of an African American Actress, she was fired from the show by new executive producer Paul Rauch in 1985. She made a return to the small screen in 2002, when she appeared as "Selena Frey" in the made-for-cable film 10,000 Black Men Named George, alongside Andre Braugher and Mario Van Peebles.
Holly is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Offscreen, Holly pursued a relationship with costar Roger Hill, known for his role as Cyrus in the cult film The Warriors.
- ↑ Error on call to Template:cite book: Parameter title must be specifiedGarfield, David (1980). . MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc..
- ↑ Ellen Holly Biography - FilmReference.com
- ↑ Schemering, Christopher. The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, September 1985, pg. 158-166, ISBN 0-345-32459-5 (1st edition)
- ↑ Roses and Revolutions : Waxidermy