Reference Entry

Berry, Halle

Charmaine A. Flemming

in Black Women in America, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195156775
Berry, Halle

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In 2002 the highest honor for a film actor, the Oscar, was awarded for the first time to an African American female, Halle Berry, for her work in Monster's Ball. Berry is considered one of America's most beautiful women, a first-rate performer, and one of Hollywood's most sought-after leading ladies.Born to Jerome and Judith Berry in Cleveland, Ohio, Halle Berry was the second daughter of this interracial couple. Halle and her older sister, Heidi, lived their early childhood years in an inner-city neighborhood. When Berry was four, her abusive father left the family, leaving his daughters to be raised almost totally by their mother, a psychiatric nurse. Some time later, Judith Berry moved Halle and her sister to the predominantly white Cleveland suburb of Bedford.When discussing the family's move to Bedford, Berry said it was there that her growth as an interracial child and teenager was difficult, primarily because she attended a nearly all-white public school. However, her intelligence and determination helped her to rise above her adversities. By the time she was in high school, she was newspaper editor, class president, a member of the honor society, a varsity cheerleader, and prom queen. in the film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, a biographical drama. PhotofestBerry's beauty helped to propel her into the spotlight, beginning with national and international beauty pageants. She won the Miss Ohio USA crown and was first runner-up for Miss USA in 1986. Traditionally, while the winner of the Miss USA pageant goes on to vie for the Miss Universe title, the runner-up represents the United States in the Miss World contest, held in London. Berry finished third in the Miss World pageant but won the dress competition and created a brief sensation in the British press with the star-spangled bikini she wore in the parade of national costumes. She was the first African American to represent the United States in the Miss World competition.In addition to competing in pageants, Berry attended Cleveland's Cuyahoga Community College, where she studied broadcast journalism. However, she did not pursue a career in news reporting, opting instead to devote her time to a career in entertainment. She signed on with a Chicago modeling agency that a friend from her pageant days was starting, although she was aware that at five feet six inches, she was not tall enough for top-flight modeling in Europe or New York. Though Berry eventually landed enough assignments, including catalog work, to support herself in Chicago, things were difficult. Berry's mother had been strongly against the move to Chicago because she wanted her daughter to attend Ohio State University, and so she refused help, even with money for food. This led to a yearlong estrangement between the two of them. However, when Berry proved she was a survivor, mother and daughter resumed their close relationship.Berry left modeling for acting at the request of the talent agent Vincent Cirrincione, who offered to be her manager. She was quickly cast in the television situation comedy Living Dolls, in which she played a young model working for an agency run by Michael Learned. The short-lived show took Berry to Los Angeles but did nothing to help her establish a reputation as a serious actor. During this period, Berry was diagnosed with diabetes. Needing to pay her medical bills, she took the role of an exotic dancer in The Last Boy Scout, with Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans. This was the beginning of what became an illustrious career, which included Spike Lee's Jungle Fever (1991), for which she won critical acclaim, playing the crack-addict girlfriend of Samuel L. Jackson. Berry went on to play in Strictly Business with Tommy Davidson in 1991. In 1992 Berry played Angela opposite Eddie Murphy and Robin Givens in Boomerang.It was the 1993 miniseries Queen in which Berry made her mark as a serious actor. Though the role was exhausting, her performance was excellent. In 1994, The Flintstones, in which she played John Goodman's crooked secretary with a conscience, exposed her to a large and diverse audience. In 1995 she played a recovering addict seeking custody of her son in Losing Isaiah (1995). In 1998 Berry starred in Bullworth as the hip-hop love interest of Warren Beatty, and in Why Do Fools Fall in Love, a story of the life of teen idol Frankie Valle. Then in 1999 she purchased the rights to produce and star in a Home Box Office (HBO) movie about the life of one of Hollywood's most talented and beautiful actors, the late Dorothy Dandridge, which was made into Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. There followed The X-Men (2000), Monster's Ball (2001), and X2 (2003). In the James Bond film Die Another Day (2002), Berry played Jinx. She was the first African American woman to star in the James Bond series, and she demanded that her character be a partner, not just another “Bond girl.” It is significant that she had enough clout in Hollywood to induce the producers to meet her demand. Other films include Swordfish (2001) and Gothika (2003).Berry has many awards to her credit, including an Emmy, a Golden Globe, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and an Oscar. But Berry's fame has not been without its personal challenges. On New Year's Day in 1993, Berry married the Atlanta Braves star outfielder David Justice. The ceremony took place at Justice's Atlanta home, with Berry's mother as maid of honor and Justice's mother as “best woman.” Unfortunately, competing careers kept the couple apart for long periods. After a promising start, the marriage foundered and then ended in February 1996. Next Berry married the singer Eric Benet in 2001 and adopted his daughter by a deceased girlfriend. The union appeared to bring her the love that she desired, but in 2003 Berry announced their separation, which was due to irreconcilable marital problems.Halle Berry has distinguished herself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of entertainment. Her excellent representation of her race and gender has earned her worldwide admiration.See also Film Industry.

Reference Entry.  1093 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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