She was the first black woman to sing on American radio and the first black performer to win an Academy Award. When she attended the Oscar ceremony she was the first African-American to do so as a guest, not as a servant.
In her prolific movie career she was credited for her performance in 83 movies but she appeared uncredited in many more
BiographyHattie McDaniel was born on June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas, the youngest of 13 children and the daughter of former slaves. The family moved to Denver, Colorado where Hattie went to school which she abandoned in her sophomore year in order to start her show business career touring with the family's minstrel group, which starred two of her brothers, Sam and Otis.
When Otis died in 1916 the troupe hit hard times, and it was 4 years before her next big opportunity when she joined George Morrison's band, 'Melody Hounds', a black touring group, and in 1925 she went on to become a radio singer with the group, on station KOA in Denver. She later headed for Hollywood and started to get bit parts in movies.
Movie ActressHer first credited role was in 1932 in 'The Golden West' in which she played a maid. Her second film role was in the highly successful 'I''m No Angel' with Mae West in 1933, in which she played one of the black maids with whom West performed backstage. She received several other uncredited film roles in the early 1930s, often singing in choruses.
.Between then and her final movie in 1949 she made many screen appearances, most of them uncredited, and the overwhelming majority of them were as cooks or maids. She was put under contract in 1935 by Fox Film Corporation to appear in 'The Little Colonel' with Shirley Temple, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Lionel Barrymore. In the same year she showed her comedic talents as Jean Harlow's maid and travelling companion in 'China Seas'.
She was featured as Queenie in Universal Pictures' version of 'Show Boat' in 1936, starring Irene Dunne and Paul Robeson. In the same film she and Robeson sang a duet together, 'I Still Suits Me'. After this she had large roles in 'Saratoga' in 1937, again starring Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, and 'The Shopworn Angel' in 1938, with Margaret Sullavan.
It is noticeable that her maid characters became gradually less and less subservient, a trend which shows first in 'Judge Priest' in 1934 and becomes more pronounced in 'Alice Adams' the following year, in which she serves dinner while keeping up a running commentary of observations and grumbles. By 1938 in 'The Mad Miss Manton' we find her actually telling off Barbara Stanwyck, her employer.
The assertive trend continues into her greatest role, perhaps the most famous maid role of all time, that of Mammy in 'Gone with the Wind' in 1939. Here she is full of advice and help and is, in many ways, superior to most of the white people around her. One of the reasons she got the role was the support given to her by Clark Gable who had already worked with her several times.
Gone with the Wind 1939For her role in 'Gone with the Wind' Hattie won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and she was the first black person to win an Oscar. Sadly, the honor, which she accepted with poignant gratitude, did not lead to the widening of opportunities that it should have done, and she continued in relatively minor roles for the rest of her film career which continued right through the following decade.
She played Olivia de Havilland's loyal southern maid Callie in 'They Died with Their Boots On' in 1941, and the following year she appeared in 'In This Our Life' starring Bette Davis and once again she played a maid, but this time directly confronting racial issues as her son is wrongly accused of manslaughter. She continued to play domestics through the war years in 'The Male Animal' in 1942, 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' in 1943, with Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis again, and 'Since You Went Away' the following year, but she was less feisty and assertive than previously.
In response to criticism from the black community, McDaniel justified her generally subordinate roles by explaining that the choice was either to play a servant or be one. She stated that she worked not only for herself but thought she was working for future generations of African-Americans as well. Yet her maids do have their own style, often displaying sharp-tongued familiarity with their employers.
PersonalHattie McDaniel was married 4 times as follows:
Larry C. Williams (11 June 1949 - 5 December 1950) ( divorced)
James Lloyd Crawford (21 March 1941 - 19 December 1945) ( divorced)
George Langford (1922 - 1922) ( his death)
Howard Hickman (11 January 1911 - 15 March 1915) ( his death)
Each marriage was short-lived and she had no children.
Her last film appearances were 'Mickey' in 1948 and 'Family Honeymoon' and 'The Big Wheel' in 1949 and then she spent her final years successfully, first on radio and then on TV as the eponymous 'Beulah' from 1950 onwards, another maid but, surprisingly, the lead role, and a big hit with audiences. It was during the run of these shows that she was diagnosed with the breast cancer that claimed her in 1952.
Hattie McDaniel died on October 26, 1952. Her funeral was attended by 3,000 mourners but racism dogged her even to the end. Her last wish was to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. She wrote that she would like a "white shroud", "white gardenias in my hair and in my hands" and "a pillow of red roses". The owners of the cemetery refused to allow her to be buried there, as they did not take blacks.
In 1999, her relatives finally placed a memorial cenotaph for the actress at the now-renamed Hollywood Forever cemetery. Her second choice had been Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles, and that is where she lies today.
Hattie McDaniel Academy AwardsOne Win:
Best Supporting Actress ... Gone with the Wind (1939)
No Unsuccessful Nominations:
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Hattie McDaniel Filmography
The Impatient Maiden
Are You Listening?
The Boiling Point
The Golden West
I'm No Angel
Mickey's Rescue (Short)
Merry Wives of Reno(uncredited)
Operator 13 (uncredited)
King Kelly of the U.S.A. (uncredited)
Imitation of Life
Lost in the Stratosphere
Fate's Fathead (Short)(uncredited)
Little Men (uncredited)
The Chases of Pimple Street (Short)(uncredited)
Anniversary Trouble (Short)
Okay Toots! (Short) (uncredited)
The Little Colonel
Transient Lady (uncredited)
The Four Star Boarder (Short)
Harmony Lane (uncredited)
Murder by Television
Music Is Magic
Another Face (uncredited)
We're Only Human
Next Time We Love
The First Baby
The Singing Kid (uncredited)
Arbor Day (Short)
The Bride Walks Out
Postal Inspector (uncredited)
Star for a Night
Valiant Is the Word for Carrie
Can This Be Dixie?
Don't Tell the Wife
The Crime Nobody Saw
The Wildcatter (uncredited)
Over the Goal
Merry-Go-Round of 1938 (uncredited)