AFTER HEARING HER SING HIS SONGS on national television, composer Irving Berlin (1888-1989) sent a note to Diahann Carroll. Typewritten on his personal letterhead, it was dated Feb. 7, 1968. Berlin wrote: “Dear Diahann Carroll, The way you sang those songs last night on the Tonight Show made me feel awfully good. With my thanks and best wishes…”

Later that year, in September 1968, Carroll’s groundbreaking sitcom “Julia” debuted. Starring in the title role, she made history playing a widowed nurse raising a young son. “Julia” was the first American television series with a professional black woman at the center of the narrative.

A pioneering and glamorous actress and singer, Carroll died Oct. 4, 2019, at her home in West Hollywood Calif. The cause was complications from breast cancer. She was 84.

In the wake of her passing, Bonhams is auctioning the Estate of Diahann Carroll. The March 10, 2020, sale features 155 lots, including the Berlin letter, a leather-bound working script for the pilot episode of “Julia,” other memorabilia related her many acting roles, art, furniture, jewelry, clothing, and a Steinway baby grand piano. An essay by Tanya Dukes opens the sale catalog and reflects on the life and work of Carroll with insights from her daughter Suzanne Kay.

A photograph of Carroll’s glass-walled living room with panoramic views of the Hollywood Hills is also featured in the catalog. Nearly all the furniture in the room, books and sculptures on the coffee table, and art on the wall are included in the sale.

A line portrait of Carroll by Joe Eula, a fashion illustrator who worked with Halston hangs between floor-to-ceiling windows. Head of a Man (n.d.), a bronze sculpture by Artis Lane can be seen in the room, displayed on the coffeetable beside an unattributed bronze sculpture of a female torso (which also resembles the artist’s work). Lane’s undated portrait of Kay as a child is offered in the auction, too. Unfortunately, few details are provided about each of these artistic works.


Many of the items featured in the sale, including a bronze bust by Artis Lane, are displayed in the living room of Diahann Carroll’s West Hollywood home. | Photo: Bonhams


Los Angeles-based Lane, 93, focuses primarily on sculpture. She also paints portraits and makes prints. The Canadian-born artist attended Cranbrook Academy of Art, just outside Detroit, and over the course of her career, she’s depicted many prominent and historic figures.

Her bust of Rosa Parks is in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Lane’s bust of Sojourner Truth was unveiled by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009 and is now on permanent display in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. The work is the first sculpture in the Capitol building to pay tribute to an African American woman.

Presenting 60 years of work, “A Woman’s Journey: The Life and Work of Artis Lane,” the first retrospective of the artist, was on view at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles (Sept. 27, 2007-March 2, 2008). More recently, the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit showcased Lane’s work in a solo exhibition in 2017. She’s made busts of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, President Barack Obama, Mrs. Obama, and Qunicy Jones. Lane has also painted portraits of Dillard University President Samuel D. Cook (1975-1997), Oprah Winfrey, and Carroll.

BORN IN THE BRONX, Carroll grew up in Harlem and went on to star in films and sing on Broadway. She made her film debut in a supporting role in “Carmen Jones” (1954), which starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. Carroll also appeared in “Porgy and Bess” (1959) starring Dandridge and Sidney Poitier. Then in 1962, she made theater history. For her role in the Broadway musical “No Strings,” Carroll won the Tony Award for best actress. She was the first African American woman to ever receive the award.


Lot 23: Head of a Man by Artis Lane, n.d. (bronze, signed and numbered 6 of 7, 16 1/2 inches). | Estimate $3,000-$5,000. Sold for $8,825 fees included


After playing the leading in “Julia” for three seasons (1968-71), Carroll took on the title role in the film “Claudine.” Starring opposite James Earl Jones, she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her performance. Carroll continued to work throughout the years.

On television, she was featured on “Dynasty” (1984-87), “A Different World” (1989-93), and “Soul Food’ (2003-04). Shonda Rhimes later wrote a role for her on “Grey’s Anatomy” (2006-07). She was also cast in the 1997 film “Eve’s Bayou.”

Carroll is interviewed in “They’ve Gotta Have Us” (2018), a three-part documentary released on Netflix earlier this month. In the film’s first episode, Carroll reflects on her relationship with Sidney Poitier, his 1964 Best Actor Oscar for “Lillies of the Field” (when he became the first African American to win an Academy Award), and her role in “Claudine.”

At the conclusion of the Bonhams catalog essay, Kay said her mother wasn’t shy about assessing her influence and was confident about her legacy. According to Kay, Carroll said: “Let’s face it—I am historic.” CT


UPDATE (03/20/20): Sales results added


VIEW MORE The Estate of Diahann Carroll e-catalog


FIND MORE about Artis Lane on her website


“A Woman’s Journey: The Life and Work of Artis Lane” was published to accompany Artis Lane’s 2007-08 retrospective at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. Diahann Carroll opened up about her personal and professional journeys in “The Legs Are the Last to Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, and Other Things I Learned the Hard Way” (2008) and “Diahann: An Autobiography” (1986).


Lot 9: Working script for the pilot episode of Julia, Mimeographed teleplay by Hal Kanter, September 1967 (leather bound with gilt stamped title, 8 3/4 x 11 1/2 inches). | Estimate $3,000-$5,000. Sold for $27,575 fees included


Lot 8: Irving Berlin Letter to Diahann Carroll, Feb. 7, 1968 (typewritten on personal letterhead, Overall: 9 3/4 x 11 inches; Within frame: 5 3/4 x 6 3/4 inches). | Estimate $200-$400. Sold for $510 fees included


Lot 33: Abstract Female Figure Sculpture by Ed Dwight, 1979 (bronze on a marble pedestal, signed E. Dwight, height of bronze 38 1/2 inches). | Estimate $1,000-$1,500. Sold for $6,950 fees included


Lot 30: “Claudine” Working Script, Twentieth Century Fox, 1974 (mimeographed pages, custom-bound in leather, 8.5 x 11 inches). | Estimate $1,800-$2,200. Sold for $22,575 fees included


Lot 74: Group of Coffeetable Books (Approximately 20), including volumes on Geoffrey Holder by Jennifer Dunning and about the Kinsey Collection of African American art. | Estimate $100-$200. Sold for $484 fees included


Lot 7: Joe Eula line portrait of Diahann Carroll, n.d. (pen and ink on paper, Overall: 22 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches; Within mat: 17 3/4 x 23 3/4 inches). | Estimate $450-$550. Sold for $4,075 fees included


Lot 2: Photographic archive pertaining to the 1962 Broadway play, “No Strings,” (17 silver gelatin photographs in faux leather album, 10 1/2 x 12 inches). | Estimate $600-$800. Sold for $3,570 fees included


Lot 10: Emmy nomination Certificate for “Julia,” 1968-69 (laminated on board, 9 x 11 inches). | Estimate $2,000-$4,000


Lot 73: Tyler Perry Personalized Video Invitation, For opening celebration of Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, October 2019 (silk box containing cardstock invitation and video of Tyler Perry personally inviting Diahann Carroll to “Imagine This”). | Estimate $300-$500. Sold for $408 fees included


Lot 29: Portrait of Suzanne Kay as a Child by Artis Lane, n.d. (pastel on paper, 24 1/4 x 17 3/4 inches). | Estimate $300-$500. Sold for $3,187 fees included


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