cover image One Life: The Autobiography of an African American Actress

One Life: The Autobiography of an African American Actress

Ellen Holly. Kodansha America, $23 (320pp) ISBN 978-1-56836-158-1

After rhetorically asking, ""Was I born into a family that was too ideal?"" TV soap actress Holly explains that she ""fought for air by acting"" and that, with this book, ""now I fight for air by writing."" Her upbringing--her father was a chemical engineer who, along with her mother, steeped the family in traditional values--gave her good manners and poise. But she also emerged with a vulnerability to others, as well as with uncommon powers of observation, which she uses here to see and to articulate the problems of being a talented, ambitious actress who also is African American. Holly (b. 1931) came to public notice in 1968 with her role as Carla Benari on One Life to Live. Seventeen years later, she left the show after a confrontation with the director; three years after that, she was cast as Judge Francis Collier on The Guiding Light. Holly parallels the turns of her acting career to various social events and issues such as the civil rights movement and the killing of Martin Luther King Jr., and describes honestly how these turns affected, and were affected by, the ongoing status of blacks on TV. The personal side of her life also receives frank attention, including portrayals of her parents, vignettes of her childhood and accounts of her affairs. Her most notable romance was with Harry Belafonte, whom Holly came to see as ""fraudulent"" for his alleged hypocrisy in his relations with black women. Holly settles some scores, depicts the mercurial world of show biz, says some things she wishes she had said earlier and displays a vivid sense of justice in this outspoken memoir. Author tour. (Nov.)