Hattie McDaniel (Center): Chairman of the Negro Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee
One of my favorite actresses of all time is Hattie McDaniel. I fell in love with her when she all but stole the entire movie Gone With the Wind (right out from under the big-name stars!) and I’ve never fallen out of love.
When reading (and writing) about men and women of color during Old Hollywood (or many times in history, unfortunately), I inevitably feel a mixture of emotions. First of all, there’s an overwhelming sense of sadness that there was EVER a time when humans were not treated equally breaks my heart. I once read a biography on Jackie Robinson and had to put it down, like, a hundred times to dry my eyes. A few times, I even thought, “I’m not picking that back up… my heart cannot take it!”
The same can certainly be said when reading about other heroes and heroines – Harriet Tubman, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Etta James, Sammy Davis, Jr, Martin Luther King, Jr., Booker T. Washington..
However, a desire to know them better combined with an intense longing to know what made them strong enough to rise above it all keeps me reading and reading and reading. Is it always comfortable? Heck no. It’s often heart-breaking, maddening, infuriating, frustrating, and a whole slew of other emotions that don’t even have names.
And yet…. all of that can be flipped over, exposing a beautiful other side. These individuals, and so many like them, displayed a strength and grit that most of us will never be called upon to channel. People around them tried to tell them “their place,” but they didn’t accept it. They saw no good reason they couldn’t carve out their own place – and that they did!
So, as you read about this talented, lovely actress with a million-dollar smile, keep in mind all that she overcame – can you imagine the strength of character it took?! Of course she did more than just overcome, mind you. The lady made history.
Facts About Hattie McDaniel:
Hattie McDaniel (1895–1952) was born on June 10, 1895 in Wichita, Kansas.
She was the first African-American to win an Academy Award. She won as Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939).
Her wish to be buried in Hollywood at the time of her death in 1952 was denied due to the racism that existed at this time. However, 47 years later, she was memorialized with a granite monument at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
She became the first African-American to attend the Academy Awards as an actual guest.
Her father was a slave who was ultimately freed.
She was a huge vaudeville star in her day as both a singer and dancer.
Hattie McDaniel willed her Oscar to Howard University. Unfortunately the Oscar was lost during race riots at Howard during the 1960s and it has never been found.
Hattie McDaniel and Clark Gable were good friends. Gable threatened to boycott the premiere in Atlanta because McDaniel was not invited, but later relented when she convinced him to go.
Clark Gable played a joke on her during the filming of Gone With the Wind. He put real brandy in the decanter instead of iced tea during the Bonnie Blue birth celebration scene!
Pictured on a USA 39¢ commemorative postage stamp in the Black Heritage series, issued 25 January 2006.
Was referenced in both George Clooney and Mo’Nique’s Oscar acceptance speeches.
When black actors and actresses couldn’t find a decent place to stay in Los Angeles, Hattie opened her doors to them at her home.
McDaniel was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: One for Radio at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard and for one for Motion Pictures at 1719 Vine Street in Hollywood.
She’s the subject of a bio, Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood by Jill Watts.
Hattie McDaniel died on October 26, 1952 at the young age of 57.