Porgy and Bess (1959)

Diahann Carroll had a small role in the by now classic movie, Porgy and Bess. Although a musical / "folk opera", the actors and actresses themselves was dubbed, so it is not Diahann Carroll we hear, but a opera singer (Loulie Jean Norman). (Diahann recorded her own version the same year on the album Porgy and Bess, arranged by Andre Previn - who also acted as arranger for the soundtrack of the movie.) The movie was directed by Otto Preminger and starred Sidney Poitier as Porgy and Dorothy Dandridge as Bess, and co-starred Sammy Davis, Jr. and Pearl Bailey. Diahann Carroll played the role of Clara. Diahann writes in her 1986 book, Diahann!:

I didn't want to do it [take part in the movie], for many reasons. First of all, I had decided after Carmen Jones that there was no real benefit for me to do bit parts in movies when I had center stage as a singer. /../ Second, the racial stereotypes of Catfish Row held absolutely no attraction for me, and I was offended by the story. Third, even though George Gershwin's music was glorious (the score was every artist's dream!), the producers had hired opera singers to dub the songs, so my voice wouldn't even be on the soundtrack.

Diahann's then husband, Monte Kay, persuaded her, saying that it would give her the experience she needed, so eventually Diahann called the agent and accepted. That decision would change her life, not because of the movie itself, but because it was during the filming she met Sidney Poitier...

The Gershwin family strongly disapproved of the film version of Porgy and Bess; they felt that producer Samuel Goldwyn had glamorized and "Hollywoodized" it too much, and that he had made a mistake in firing the film's original director, Rouben Mamoulian (director of the original stage version in 1935). They withdrew all copies of this film after its theatrical release and first television showings in the mid 1960's. It was eventually released on video (although I'm not sure if it was ever commercially available) - it is now highly sought after and goes for hundreds of dollars on auction sites like eBay.

The film itself got mixed reviews, although notably Dorothy Dandridge and Pearl Bailey got positive remarks. The magazine "Down Beat" wrote: "When you make a movie musical, make it a movie musical - that is, one that accepts the conventions of the motion picture art and uses them to advantage, rather than being hung up on them". They concluded that Porgy and Bess would not be remembered as one of Hollywood's most outstanding movies. They also noted that it would be OK with dubbing if the voices used would have been outstanding, but that was not the case. Anyway, the cast was filled with stars, and many remember the film with fondness. It ended up with four Oscar nominations, winning an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture. It also won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Musical.


Sidney Poitier ... Porgy
Dorothy Dandridge ... Bess
Sammy Davis Jr. ... Sportin' Life
Pearl Bailey ... Maria
Brock Peters ... Crown
Leslie Scott ... Jake
Diahann Carroll ... Clara
Ruth Attaway ... Serena Robbins
Claude Akins ... Detective
Clarence Muse ... Peter
Everdinne Wilson ... Annie
Joel Fluellen ... Robbins
Earl Jackson ... Mingo
Moses LaMarr ... Nelson
Margaret Hairston ... Lily

Directed by Otto Preminger
Based on the musical by George Gershwin
Screenplay by N. Richard Nash

The movie premiered in 1959.


Not available on DVD.


EXTERNAL LINKS (Opens in new window)

Porgy and Bess on IMDB.com
Porgy and Bess on Wikipedia