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Diahann Carroll: The Legend Lives On

Some Hollywood A-listers should learn a thing or two about self-branding and behavior from Diahann Carroll.
Before I get immersed in the subject du jour, I’d like to make clear that I’m writing from a place of love. I mean no malice or disrespect toward anyone, but I do have a few questions and concerns.

Over the last few months, I’ve been watching folks crash and burn, from every direction.  I’d prefer not to name names, but between media mavens scraping the barrel’s bottom for ratings, former chart-topping balladeers offering instruction on the mechanics of the female body, international pop tarts Tweeting outrageousness and trotting the globe wearing next-to-nothing (and sometimes, puffing on a blunt, too) and even pro athletes putting their games in jeopardy for a taste of reality fame, I can’t help but wonder how these actions will affect their legacies? Do they realize how much, and how quickly, they’re unraveling all of the work they’ve put in?  Do they even care?

There’s always so much chatter about brand-building, but there’s far less conversation being had about protecting one’s legacy. I’d like to think that we’re all here for a purpose. We’re charged with soaring beyond the point that our predecessors traveled, then passing the baton on to those who walk behind us – with pride. These days, it seems that many people are just grabbing at any and every source of fame, money and power, just to stay relevant. In my humble opinion, that’s not only a short-sided approach, but it’s also quite damaging.

Earlier this week, I attended Women In Film’s 2012 Crystal + Lucy Awards, an annual event that celebrates women for their work in front of and behind the camera. It was lovely to see Viola Davis accept the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, which was presented by Meryl Streep. Viola is always such a joy, but the woman who really struck me was Diahann Carroll, who was on-hand to present the Lucy Award for Excellence in Television to NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Chairman, Bonnie Hammer.  

When she stepped to the stage in her classic, black pantsuit and her flawless hair and make-up, the entire ballroom was transfixed because, well, she’s Diahann Carroll. Moments later, Hammer began her acceptance speech by going on and on and on about why she wanted Ms. Carroll to be a part of her celebration. For starters, it doesn’t hurt that she has a recurring role on the NBCUniversal Cable series, White Collar. Then, there’s the fact that she is among of a small handful of women who has received both the Crystal and the Lucy Award, in 1992 and 1998, respectively. Oh, and she’s also earned Tony and Golden Globe Awards, Emmy and Oscar nominations, a coveted star on Hollywood Walk of Fame and an Essence Black Women in Hollywood Award. All I could think was, “Wow, she is legend.”  

Like most of us, I’m sure that Diahann Carroll has made her fair share of missteps, but she has also delivered quality work, consistently, for decades. And as she noted during her introduction, maintaining one’s rhythm requires “talent, brains and a willingness to do some really hard work.” No truer words have ever been spoken. At 76, she continues to work and carry herself with as much class and dignity as she ever did. And best believe, her legacy is intact.

So, with all of that said, it’s certainly important to make a good first impression and yes, building a quality brand is essential, too. But in the end, it’s really about the work you put in, for the long-haul, and legacy you leave behind. Again, that’s just my opinion.

Regina R. Robertson is West Coast Editor of ESSENCE.  Follow her on Twitter @reginarobertson.