‘Paving the Way’: Historical Emmy Firsts

Associated Press

The 69th Emmy Awards air this Sunday, September 17th on CBS, and we’re already predicting the winners. There are a lot of first-time nominations this year, including big names like Reese Witherspoon for Big Little Lies, and Robert De Niro for The Wizard of Lies, as well as some relative newcomers, like Shannon Purser for Stranger Things (or, as you probably know her, Barb). We have no idea who will end up taking home prizes on the big night, but all these new nominations have got us thinking about Emmy firsts – those few stars who have paved the way for so many others by being the first to win the coveted award.

The very first ever Emmy winner was Shirley Dinsdale, a ventriloquist who, along with her dummy “Judy Splinters,” was a television and radio star in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The awards have come a long way since then, but there are still trails left to be blazed. On that note, here are 5 Emmy firsts, and the books by (or about!) them that we can’t put down:

First Rapper to Win an Oscar, Grammy and Emmy: Common

One Day It'll All Make Sense CommonJust this past Saturday, September 9th, rapper Common made history when he won a Creative Arts Emmy for his co-written song, “Letter to the Free,” which was used in the Ava Duvernay documentary, 13th. Before this win, Common already had an Oscar and a Grammy under his belt, making him one of the extremely rare “Triple Crown” winners. He’s also the first ever rapper to achieve that title. In honor of his win, we’re diving deep into his memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, which he co-wrote with Adam Bradley in 2011. The book details Common’s life growing up in the South Side of Chicago, and the rocky path he had to walk toward success. He also talks about what it means to be a father, an activist and someone who recognizes his own personal responsibility to both himself and the world around him. Funny and insightful, this is the kind of memoir that will speak to almost any reader.

First Latina Actress to Win an Emmy: Rita Moreno

Rita MorenoWhen Puerto Rico-born Rita Moreno won her first Emmy in 1977 for a performance on The Muppet Show, she became the first Latina actress to ever win an Emmy. She immediately won the following year too, for her guest appearance as a call girl on The Rockford Files. Not only did she make history for her 1977 Emmy win, but it also made her the 3rd person ever to achieve the elusive EGOT. To this day, Moreno is still one of only 12 performers who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. You can read about this success and more in her bestselling book, Rita Moreno: A Memoir. In it, Moreno takes readers through her experiences as an immigrant, her complicated career as a Latina actress in Hollywood, and the many relationships and friendships that have influenced her along the way.

First Black Actress to be Nominated for a Leading Role: Diahann Carroll

The Legs Are the Last to go She may not have been the first black actress to actually win – that honor goes to Gail Fisher – but Diahann Carroll still broke boundaries by being the first black actress to ever be nominated for a leading role Emmy. In 1963 she was nominated in the (slightly wordy) category of: Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, for her work on an episode of Naked City. Later on, she also went on to break even more barriers by becoming the first black woman to star in her own show, Julia, where she wasn’t playing a domestic worker. Carroll has written two books about her life and experiences in Hollywood. The most recent, The Legs are the Last to Go, was published in 2008. Written when she was nearing 70, the memoir is a look back on Carroll’s life, and the marriages and relationships that helped forge her career. Covering everything from her early relationship with her mother to her later work, Carroll’s expansive memoir is filled with the kind of insight that can only come from living a full and interesting life.

First Gay Actor to Win an Emmy: Raymond Burr

Hiding in Plain SightBurr may not have been technically out while he was acting in Hollywood, but he’s widely considered to be the first gay actor to ever win an Emmy. His first win was in the drama category for best actor in 1959, for his work on Perry Mason. He ended up being nominated for six Emmys altogether over the course of his career. Apparently, his sexuality in Hollywood was an open secret – he spent 35 years in a relationship with actor Robert Benevides, despite being linked to several different actresses and married once. Details of that relationship and more can be found in Michael Seth Starr’s extensive biography of the elusive actor, Hiding in Plain Sight.

 

First Iranian to Win an Emmy: Shohreh Aghdashloo

The Alley of Love and Yellow JasminesHer 2009 win for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie made Aghdashloo the first Iranian to win an Emmy thanks to her performance in House of Saddam. It also made her the second Asian actress to ever win the award (the first was technically Marlo Thomas). In 2013, Aghdashloo published her memoir, The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines, about her life growing up in Teheran and the political unrest that eventually forced her to flee. Facing discrimination and struggling to adapt to new cultures – first in England and then in the US – Aghdashloo became very familiar with what it means to be an outsider, particularly in a climate as cutthroat as Hollywood. Her book is honest and touching, and the stories of her struggles and triumphs will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Which Emmy firsts are you celebrating? Let us know in the comments!

 

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