Friday, February 13, 2015

Famous Black Firsts: Academy Award Winner Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10th, 1895 to former slaves in Wichita, Kansas. She was the youngest of 13 children as well. Yeesh. Growing up she performed with her brothers and sisters who also sang and did shows. At one point even though she was performing on well known and popular radio shows she still had to support herself by being a maid. She is best known for playing the character Mammy in Gone With The Wind but it turns out that she was in over 300 movies but only credited for 80. 

She also performed on stage, television, radio, and did comedy. Besides being the first Black person to win an Academy Award in 1940 (Best Supporting Actress) she was also the first Black woman to sing on the radio. I did not know that. She was also the first Black Academy Award winner to appear on a stamp back in 2006 and has two stars on the Walk of Fame. One for movies and the other for radio. When she was given the award she was criticized by some for the roles that she accepted. They wanted her to make a statement. She just wanted to act and make a living. “Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn't, I'd be making $7 a week being one.” 

During the premiere of Gone With The Wind in 1939 she and all the other Black actors were told that they could not attend, not listed on any of the programs for the film, and would not appear on any of the advertising in the South due to segregation laws at the time. Star Clark Gable threatened to not attend if Hattie was not allowed but she talked him into going. During the Hollywood premiere she was allowed to come but she and her escort had to sit separately from the rest of the cast. In her life she joined one of four Black Greek letter fraternities, performed for troops during World War 2, became one of the first Black members of the Screen Actors Guild, helped raise money for Red Cross. Even in death she could not escape racism. She wanted to be buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery after her death in 1952 but due to racial laws and the owner at the time she was not allowed to be. She got her second choice, Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery.

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