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Feature: Halle Berry

Halle Berry From very humble beginnings, the beautiful actress has become an Oscar-winning star. We chart her amazing journey

Halle Berry now holds the record for being the most successful and highest-paid African American actress in Hollywood. But the life of Halle Maria Berry (named after the HAL-ee Brothers department store in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio) had somewhat turbulent beginnings. In 1972, when she was just four, Halle’s abusive father, Jerome, abandoned her along with her sister Heidi and mother Judith. It was left to Judith to raise her small family, and she taught her daughters that they must be as tough as nails to survive. Halle has since had no contact with her estranged father.

School was no easy ride either, as being of mixed race caused problems for the young Halle. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop her from becoming a cheerleader, as well as being part of the Honour Society, Class President and fashion editor for the school’s paper. In her senior year Halle made her first triumph over adversity by being crowned Prom Queen over a blonde blue-eyed rival. It was most likely this success which drove her to enter a string of beauty pageants, resulting in her becoming runner-up in the Miss USA pageant and going on to become the first African American to represent the US in the Miss World contest in London. Having amassed a reasonable prize fund from the string of pageants, Halle then put herself through a course in broadcast journalism.

The late ’80s marked another turning point for Berry when a former beauty pageant judge convinced her to try modelling. In no time Halle was spotted by TV producer Michael Greenspon who was looking for models to appear in his upcoming television series Living Dolls. A pilot for this had already been recorded with Kill Bill’s Vivica A Fox as one of the models, Emily Franklin. Luckily for Halle, the heads at ABC weren’t impressed with Fox’s performance and agreed to cast Miss Berry instead.

Although the show only ran for 12 episodes, it was long enough for writer/director Spike Lee to notice Berry, which lead to a role as a crack addict in his ninth feature film, Jungle Fever. Halle went to great lengths to get into character. She accompanied police raids on crack houses and is reported to have remained unwashed for almost two weeks to pin down her role. The method acting paid off, winning her more movie and TV roles as well as a brief fling with her Fever co-star Wesley Snipes. Over the next few years Berry made appearances in Dallas spin-off Knot’s Landing, comedy Strictly Business and as a dancer in The Last Boy Scout (for which Halle performed in Hollywood strip clubs in preparation).

by Grant Kempster

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