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Diahann Carroll's 'Legs...' an unconventional winner

Misani | 4/12/2011, 4:34 p.m.

What do you do for an encore when you've been an iconic trailblazer in the world of entertainment for over 55 years? When you have defied the modus operandi in Hollywood, and survived and triumphed as an actress in her 40s, 50s and 60s? And now even as you defiantly strut into the 70s looking absolutely divine at 73, here's the question one more time: What do you do for an encore?

For a living legend like Ms. Diahann Carroll, her comeback is simple. She re-invents herself again by tackling yet another strategic venture. This time around, it is the role of author to add to her long list of personal and professional accomplishments. The result is Carroll's exquisitely crafted memoir, "The Legs Are the Last to Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, and Other Things I Learned the Hard Way" (Amistad/Harper Collins). Like a real fairy tale, the prologue to Carroll's book begins this way: "It was a clear evening in New York, not long ago, and I looked absolutely divine. I felt my hotel onto Central Park South. I was in town from my home in Los Angeles and had just made an appearance on a talk show with my dear old friend Harry Belafonte. Now I was on my way..." And what a way!

The dynamic singer/actress of screen, stage and TV was born in the Bronx and grew up in a Harlem brownstone. Later, her family moved to a house in Yonkers. Carroll would evolve to reach impressive and lofty pinnacles of firsts that included being the first Black female recipient of a Tony Award on Broadway ("No Strings Attached," 1962), the first to have her own network series with the groundbreaking sitcom "Julia" (1968), being dubbed as TV's "first Black bitch," Dominique Deveraux, on "Dynasty." The first... Carroll's unique voice, intimately colors the pages of "The Legs Are the Last to Go...," unveiling her rise to stardom.

Several familiar Harlem landscapes provided her training, such as musical lessons at the Tiny Tots choir at Abyssinian Baptist Church, along with piano lessons from Mrs. Carmen Convent Avenue. From there, Carroll auditioned and got accepted at the High School of Music and Art. As a teenager, she started modeling for John- son Publications while simultaneously training at the Ophelia

Devores Charm School in Harlem. Shortly after, she began her singing career in New York nightclubs, following which she landed the role of the ingenue in Truman Capote's "House of Flowers" on Broadway in 1954. Carroll's recapitulation of an experience with the acclaimed Pearl Bailey during the show is hilarious; yet it was also a learning lesson in the cutthroat world of show business, in which the actress would have to wrestle and ultimately flourish.

The candid and many-sided drama of Carroll's life is filled with peaks and valleys as well as with luscious details and history. There are also complex characters, some who play themselves out as bad guys in a superficial driven and selfish world of the times. Amongst them are several lovers, including Sidney Poitier, the leading Black actor of the '50s and '60s, whose scandalous on-and-off 10-took place on two continents and destroyed her first marriage to the father of her only child.