“Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you.” -Hattie McDaniel, acceptance speech upon winning the Oscar for Gone With The Wind
Gone With The Wind holds a special place in my heart. I remember watching the movie when I was a kid and I was so excited to find out it was based on a book. When I was in junior high, my school was taking part in the Accelerated Reader program. You read books, took quizzes, got points depending on how well you did on the quiz, and collected prizes at the end of the year with your points. 🙂 In 6th grade, I found the book Gone With The Wind at the library. I was so mad when the librarian told me it was above my reading level. What? I want to read it, let me read it! Luckily my teacher had my back and I was able to check it out. One week later, I took the test and aced it for 99 points! From that day forward, Gone With The Wind was my favorite book. Hattie McDaniel was best known for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind.
Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas. Hattie was the youngest of 13 children in a family full of entertainers. Her father, Henry McDaniel, fought in the Civil War and her mother, Susan Holbert, was a singer of religious music, both were former slaves. In 1900, the family moved to Colorado. Hattie graduated from Denver East High School. (*sources say differently on this fact, some say she graduated and others say she dropped out.)
While in high school, Hattie singing, dancing and performing as part of The Mighty Minstrels. From 1920-1925, she toured with Professor George Morrison’s Melody Hounds, a black touring ensemble. In the mid-1920s, Hattie branched out into radio, even recording several of her own songs from 1926-1929 for Okeh Records and Paramount Records in Chicago. Hattie was one of the first African-American women to perform on radio.
It looked as if Hattie’s career was starting to take off, however, after the stock market crash in 1929 she could only find work as washroom attendant and waitress at Club Madrid. She did eventually become a regular performer at Club Madrid.
Hattie made her first film appearance in The Golden West (1932), where she played a maid. Her second appearance came in the highly successful Mae West film I’m No Angel (1933), in which she played one of the black maids. Throughout the 1930s, she received several other uncredited film roles. She continued to take jobs here and there, even working with some big named actors, but for African American women at this time the roles were limited and the pay wasn’t great so she had to continue to take odd jobs to make ends meet. Here is a list of some of her film roles:
- The Little Colonel (1935), with Shirley Temple, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Lionel Barrymore.
- Judge Priest (1934), with Will Rogers
- China Seas, her first film with Clark Gable
- Saratoga, with Clark Gable
Around this time, she was criticized by members of the African American community for the roles she accepted, many of which were maids. McDaniel ultimately became best known for playing a sassy and opinionated maid, which helped her land her role of Mammy in Gone With The Wind.
Most people can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Mammy, but it wasn’t an easy role to land. It was almost as difficult as landing the role of Scarlet O’Hara (Vivien Leigh.) It is even reported that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even wrote to the film director about her own made being cast as Mammy. Clark Gable, having worked with her more than once, recommended Hattie for the role. Hattie went to her audition dressed in an authentic maid’s uniform and won the part.
Loew’s Grand Theater on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia was selected by the studio as the site for the Friday, December 15, 1939 premiere of Gone with the Wind. Because of Georgia’s segregation laws, Hattie was not allowed to attend. Clark Gable threatened to boycott the premiere, but Hattie convinced him to attend anyway.
In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. Hattie and her escort were required to sit at a segregated table for two at the far wall of the room; her white agent, William Meiklejohn, sat at the same table. The hotel had a strict no-blacks policy but allowed McDaniel in as a favor.
She remained active on radio and television in her final years, becoming the first African American to star in her own radio show with the comedy series Beulah. She also starred in the ABC television version of the show. Beulah was a hit, earning $2,000 a week for Hattie.
In August of 1950, Hattie suffered a heart attack, but by January 1951 it was stated that she was showing slight improvement. However, on October 26, 1952, Hattie McDaniel lost her battle with breast cancer. In her will, McDaniel wrote, “I desire a white casket and a white shroud; white gardenias in my hair and in my hands, together with a white gardenia blanket and a pillow of red roses. I also wish to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery” Sadly, during this time the Hollywood Cemetery practiced racial segregation and wouldn’t allow an African American to be buried there. So she was buried at Rosedale Cemetery (now known as Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery), where she lies today.
In 1999, the new owner of the Hollywood Cemetery offered to have Hattie moved there to have her late wishes granted, but the family didn’t want her body to be disturbed. Hollywood Cemetery built a large cenotaph on the lawn overlooking its lake, to honor the late Hattie McDaniel. It is one of Hollywood’s most popular tourist attractions.
Hattie has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for her contributions to both radio and motion pictures. In 1975, she was inducted posthumously into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006 she became the first African American Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.
See you next week for another #InspirationalWomenWednesday. ❤
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31