Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams were one of Black Hollywood’s most iconic on-screen couples. The two played lovers in the ’70s classic films “Mahogany” and “Lady Sings the Blues.” The chemistry they both had was so electric that many thought that they might have been romantic in real life.
The debonaire leading man said that while that was never the case, he did “love kissing on” the iconic Motown beauty.
In his upcoming memoir, “What Have We Here?: Portraits of a Life,” the 86-year-old dished on what it was like starring opposite one of the most famous Black women of the time.
When they were first paired, it was in the movie “Lady Sings the Blues.” Ross portrayed legendary singer Billie Holiday, and Williams was cast as the late jazz singer’s third husband, Louis McKay. So devoted and in love was Ross’ Holiday to his McKay that she earned herself an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams in, Lady Sings the Blues (1972) pic.twitter.com/vho0iFE9zt— Skip_Bolden 💙 🎬 🎞️ (@BoldenSkip) January 6, 2024
While it looked like magic on screen, it was relatively awkward.
Ross’s real boyfriend was the producer Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown and the project’s financier.
The singer met Gordy when she was still a teen and in the group The Primettes. However, he never signed them to the label because they were still in school. Eventually, they would become a part of the Motown family and Ross would emerge as the lead of the group after it changed its name to The Supremes. However, before then, she got close to Gordy, serving as his secretary for the summer.
“She was so bad as a secretary that I had to let her go. You know, my messages were mixed up and everything,” Gordy said about Ross working for him.
He also said she was his “baby.”
Ross was fond of her boss, saying that she trusted him with everything
“I’m very lucky to have Berry,” she said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “He decides what’s best for me to do. I give him total responsibility for those decisions. It makes it hard on him, I know, but he takes the time to really make sure he doesn’t make a wrong decision for me.”
The decision that was best, in this case, was to make Williams her romantic lead.
Williams also knew this and appreciated that while Gordy made the best decision for Ross and the film, the two kissing made him uncomfortable.
“He might object to something, but he does it in such a fashion you find himself chuckling about it because he’s chuckling about it,” Williams said in an interview with People while talking about how he navigated kissing his boss’s girl.
While Gordy might not have liked how Ross and Williams seemed to move so naturally as a couple, he understood what was needed to strike gold at the box office.
“Even when he hired me for Louis McKay, I mean, he saw the chemistry between myself and Diana when I was doing a screen test,” Williams recalls. “And he got so excited.”
It was that energy that made Gordy push his uneasiness aside, according to Williams, to cast him.
“It was very clear to him what was going on between me and Diana.” He added, “And he’s really good at that kind of stuff, judging by all of the people he has discovered.”
Gordy had nothing to worry about between the sex symbol and his daughter Rhonda Ross Kendrick’s mom. Williams says, “We never had anything.”
While nothing ever happened, he did suggest he felt sparks.
“I love kissing on-screen,” the “Star Wars” actor confessed. “It was really nice.”