Facts about Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel died at 59 years old
Born: June 10, 1893
Best known as: The first black actor to win an Oscar, in 1940

     

     

Hattie McDaniel Biography

Hattie McDaniel was a radio and film star of the 1930s and ’40s and the first black actor to win an Academy Award.

She won for her supporting role in the 1939 blockbuster Gone With the Wind.

Born in Wichita but raised in Denver, Hattie was the youngest of 13 children, many of whom were talented performers. Her older brother Otis was a go-getter, performing and producing shows in the Denver area and enlisting his siblings as cast mates.

Hattie began her performing career after dropping out of high school to be a star. By that time she was already known locally for her ability to steal the show.

She followed siblings to Los Angeles in 1931 and ambitiously pursued a career in the movies.

That decade she appeared in dozens of movies, often uncredited, including many with top stars.

McDaniel had significant roles in several films, including I’m No Angel (1932, starring Mae West), The Little Colonel (1935, starring Shirley Temple), Alice Adams (1935, starring Katharine Hepburn) and Show Boat (1936, where she sang, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”).

McDaniel won the coveted role of Mammy in the extravagant production of Gone With The Wind, and won an Oscar for her supporting role, the first black actor to even be nominated.

It was the peak of her career and in a role she had embraced, the sassy but loyal servant.

That role and its link to derogatory stereotypes of African-Americans complicated her relationship with groups like the NAACP, and she faced criticism from some black audiences.

Likewise, she faced criticism from some white audiences, who felt her characters were often not servile enough.

Through it all, she maintained a busy professional career, and after winning an Oscar she went on to star in a popular radio series. It was being turned into a TV series when she died of breast cancer.

Extra credit

Hattie McDaniel was not allowed to attend the premiere of Gone With The Wind because it was screened in a whites-only theater… McDaniel and her escort were allowed to attend the Oscars dinner, despite it being held in a whites-only hotel; they were separated from their Gone With The Wind colleagues and made to sit at a special table in the back of the room… The next black actress win an Oscar was in 1990, when Whoopi Goldberg won for her supporting role in Ghost.


     

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