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Hattie McDaniel (June 10, 1895 – October 26, 1952) was an American actress and the first black performer to win an Academy Award. She won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939).

McDaniel was also a professional singer-songwriter, comedienne, stage actress, radio performer, and television star. Hattie McDaniel was in fact the first black woman to sing on the radio in America. Over the course of her career, McDaniel appeared in over 300 films, although she only received screen credits for about 80. She gained the respect of the African American show business community with her generosity, elegance, and charm.

McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker in Hollywood: one for her contributions to radio at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard, and one for motion pictures at 1719 Vine Street. In 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006 became the first black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.

Background and early acting career

Hattie McDaniel was born June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansasmarker, to former slaves. Her father, Henry McDaniel, fought in the Civil War with the 122nd USCT and her mother, Susan Holbert, was a singer of religious music. She was the youngest of thirteen children. In 1900, the family moved to Coloradomarker, living first in Fort Collinsmarker and then in Denvermarker, where Hattie grew up and graduated from Denver East High School. Sam McDaniel {1886-1962} played the comic relief butler in Heavenly Daze. Another acting sibling of Hattie and Sam was actress Etta McDaniel

In addition to performing, Hattie was also a songwriter, a skill she honed while working with her father's minstrel show. After the death of her brother Otis in 1916, the troupe began to lose money, and it wasn't until 1920 that Hattie received another big opportunity. During 1920–25, she appeared with Professor George Morrison's Melony Hounds, a touring black ensemble, and in the mid-1920s she embarked on a radio career, singing with the Melony Hounds on station KOAmarker in Denver. In 1927–1929 she also recorded many of her songs on Okeh Records, and with Paramount Records in Chicago.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the only work McDaniel could find was as a washroom attendant and waitress at Club Madrid in Milwaukeemarker. Despite the owner's reluctance to let her perform, McDaniel was eventually allowed to take the stage, and became a regular.

In 1931, McDaniel made her way to Los Angelesmarker to join her brother Sam, sisters Etta and Orlena. When she could not get film work, she took jobs as a maid or cook. Sam was working on KNXmarker radio program called The Optimistic Do-Nut Hour, and he was able to get his sister a spot. She appeared on radio as 'Hi-Hat Hattie', a bossy maid who often "forgets her place". Her show became extremely popular, but her salary was so low that she had to continue working as a maid. Her first film appearance was in The Golden West (1932), as a maid, her second, was in the highly successful Mae West film, I'm No Angel, as one of the plump black maids West camped it up with backstage at West's circus performances. In the early years of the 1930s she received roles in several films, often singing in choruses. In 1934, McDaniel joined the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and began to attract attention and finally landed larger film roles that began to win her screen credits. Fox Film Corporation put her under contract to appear in The Little Colonel (1935), with Shirley Temple, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Lionel Barrymore.

Judge Priest (1934), directed by John Ford and starring Will Rogers, was the first film in which she would receive a major role. She had a leading part in the film and demonstrated her singing talent, including a duet with Rogers. McDaniel and Rogers became friends during filming. McDaniel had prominent roles in 1935 with her classic performance as a slovenly maid in RKO Pictures' Alice Adams, and a delightfully comic part as Jean Harlow's maid/traveling companion in MGM's China Seas, the latter her first film with Clark Gable. She had a featured role as Queenie in Universal Pictures' 1936 version of Show Boat starring Irene Dunne, and sang a verse of Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man with Helen Morgan, Paul Robeson, and the African-American chorus. Later in the film she and Robeson sang I Still Suits Me, a song written especially by Kern and Hammerstein for the film. After Show Boat she had major roles in MGM's Saratoga (1937), starring Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, The Shopworn Angel (1938) with Margaret Sullavan, and The Mad Miss Manton (1938), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. She has a very minor role in the Carole Lombard/Frederic March vehicle, Nothing Sacred, (1937), in which she appears as the wife of a shoeshine man (Tony Brown, Jr.) who is masquerading as a sultan.

McDaniel had befriended several of Hollywood's most popular stars, including Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Shirley Temple, Henry Fonda, Ronald Reagan, Olivia de Havilland and Clark Gable, with the two last-named of whom she would star in Gone with the Wind. It was around this time that she began to be criticized by members of the black community for roles she was choosing to take. The Little Colonel (1935) depicted black servants longing for a return to the Old South. Ironically, McDaniel's portrayal of Malena in RKO Pictures' Alice Adams angered white Southern audiences. She managed to steal several scenes away from the film's star, Katharine Hepburn. This was the type of role she would be best known for, the sassy, independently minded, and opinionated maid.

The competition in Gone with the Wind (1939) to play Mammy had been almost as stiff as that for Scarlett O'Hara. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to film producer David O. Selznick to ask that her own maid, Elizabeth McDuffie, be given the part. McDaniel did not think she would be chosen, because she was known for being a comic actress. Clark Gable recommended the role go to McDaniel, and when she went to her audition dressed in an authentic maid's uniform, Selznick knew he had found Mammy. Gable was delighted to be working again with McDaniel.

The Loew's Grand Theatre on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgiamarker, was selected as the theater for the premiere of Gone with the Wind, Friday, December 15, 1939. When the date of the Atlanta premiere approached, all the black actors were barred from attending, and excluded from being in the souvenir program. David Selznick had at least attempted to bring Hattie McDaniel, but MGM advised him not to because of Georgia's segregationist laws, which would have required McDaniel to stay in a segregated "blacks-only" hotel, and prevented her from sitting in the theater with her white peers. Clark Gable angrily threatened to boycott the Atlanta premiere unless McDaniel was allowed to attend, but McDaniel convinced him to attend anyway. Most of Atlanta's 300,000 citizens crowded the route of the seven-mile motorcade that carried the film's other stars and executives from the airport to the Georgian Terrace Hotel, where they stayed. While the Jim Crow laws kept McDaniel from the Atlanta premiere, she did attend the Hollywood debut on December 28, 1939. This time, upon Selznick's insistence, her picture was featured prominently in the program. (It would also be included in programs for all areas outside of the South.)

It was her role as the sassy servant who repeatedly scolds her mistress, Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), and scoffs at Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), that won McDaniel the 1940 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first African American to win an Oscar. She was also the first African American ever to be nominated. "I loved Mammy," McDaniel said. "I think I understood her because my own grandmother worked on a plantation not unlike Tara". Her role in Gone with the Wind had scared her Southern audience and in the South, there were complaints that in the film she had been too familiar with her white employer.

Oscar night

Louella Parsons, an American gossip columnist, wrote about Oscar night of 1940: "Hattie McDaniel earned that gold Oscar, by her fine performance of "Mammy" in Gone with the Wind. If you had seen her face when she walked up to the platform and took the gold trophy, you would have had the choke in your voice that all of us had when Hattie, hair trimmed with gardenias, face alight, and dress up to the queen's taste, accepted the honor in one of the finest speeches ever given on the Academy floor. She put her heart right into those words and expressed not only for herself, but for every member of her race, the gratitude she felt that she had been given recognition by the Academy. Fay Bainter, with voice trembling, introduced Hattie and spoke of the happiness she felt in bestowing upon the beaming actress Hollywood's greatest honor. Her proudest possession is the red silk petticoat that David Selznick gave her when she finished Gone with the Wind".

Gone with the Wind was awarded ten Academy Awards, a record that would stand for years, and has been named by the American Film Institute (AFI) as number four among the top 100 American films of all time.

Later acting career

As the 1940s progressed, the servant roles McDaniel and other African American performers had so frequently played were subjected to increasingly strong criticism by groups such as the NAACP. In response to the NAACP's criticism, McDaniel replied, "I'd rather play a maid and make $700 a week than be one for $7."

In 1942's Warner Bros., In This Our Life, she once again played a domestic, starring Bette Davis and directed by John Huston; character confronts racial issues as her law student son is wrongly accused of manslaughter. The following year, McDaniel was in Warner Bros., Thank Your Lucky Stars, with Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis. In 1943, Time wrote about McDaniel, "Hattie McDaniel, whose bubbling, blaring good humor more than redeems the roaring bad taste of a Harlem number called "Ice Cold Katie" [musical number by Dinah Shore]. Hattie McDaniel continued to play maids during the war years, in Warner Bros., The Male Animal (1942), and United Artists, Since You Went Away (1944), but her feistiness was toned down.

She made her last film appearances, Mickey and Family Honeymoon (1949), but was still quite active in her final years on radio and television, becoming the first major African American radio star with her comedy series Beulah. She starred in the ABC television version, taking over for Ethel Waters after the first season. It was a hit, earning McDaniel $2,000 a week. After filming a handful of episodes, however, McDaniel learned she had breast cancer. By the spring of 1952, she was too ill to work and was replaced by Louise Beavers.


Legal case: Victory on "Sugar Hill"

Time magazine, December 17, 1945:

Their story was as old as it was ugly. In 1938, Negroes, willing and able to pay $15,000 and up for West Adams, Los Angeles, California, Heights property, had begun moving into the old colonial mansions. Many were movie folk—Actresses Louise Beavers, Hattie McDaniel, Ethel Waters, etc. They improved their holdings, kept their well-defined ways, quickly won more than tolerance from most of their white neighbors. But some whites, refusing to be comforted, had drawn up a racial restrictive covenant among themselves. For seven years they had tried to sell it to the other whites, but failed. Then they went to court. Superior Judge Thurmond Clarke decided to visit the disputed ground—popularly known as "Sugar Hill." Next morning, Judge Clarke threw the case out of court. His reason: "It is time that members of the Negro race are accorded, without reservations or evasions, the full rights guaranteed them under the 14th Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Judges have been avoiding the real issue too long." Said Hattie McDaniel, of West Adams Heights: "Words cannot express my appreciation."
It was McDaniel, the most famous of the black homeowners, who helped to organize the black West Adams residents that saved their homes. Loren Miller, a local attorney and owner/publisher of the California Eagle newspaper represented the homeowners in their restrictive covenant case. In 1944, he won the case Fairchild v Rainers, a decision for a black Pasadena, Californiamarker family that had bought a non restricted lot but was sued by white neighbors anyway.

McDaniel had purchased her white two-story, seventeen-room mansion in 1942. The house included a large living room, dining room, drawing room, den, butler's pantry, kitchen, service porch, library, four bedrooms, and a basement. McDaniel had a yearly Hollywood party. Everyone knew that the king of Hollywood, Clark Gable, would be faithfully present at all of McDaniel's Movieland parties.

Community service

McDaniel was also a member of Sigma Gamma Rho, one of four African-American Greek letter sororities in the United States. During World War II, McDaniel was the Chairman of the Negro Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee, providing entertainment for soldiers stationed at military bases. She also put in numerous personal appearances to hospitals, threw parties, performed at United Service Organizations (USO) shows and war bond rallies, to raise funds to support the war, on behalf of the Victory Committee. Bette Davis also performed for black regiments as the only white member of an acting troupe formed by Hattie McDaniel, that also included Lena Horne and Ethel Waters.

She joined Clarence Muse for an NBC radio broadcast to raise funds for Red Crossmarker relief programs for Americans, many of them black, who had been displaced by the year's devastating floods. Within the black community, she gained a reputation for generous giving, often without question feeding and lending money to friends and stranger alike.


While her career was advancing in the 1920s, her husband, George Langford, died soon after she married him in 1922, and her father died the same year. She married Howard Hickman in 1938 but divorced him later the same year. In 1941, she married James Lloyd Crawford, real estate salesman. In the book Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams, by Donald Bogle, it is referenced that in 1945, McDaniel happily informed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper that she was pregnant. McDaniel began buying baby clothes and setting up a nursery. Her plans were shattered when the doctor informed her she had a false pregnancy; McDaniel fell into a depression. She divorced Crawford in 1945, after four and a half years of marriage. She said he was jealous of her career and once threatened to kill her.

In Yuma, Arizonamarker, on June 11, 1949, she married Larry Williams, interior decorator. She divorced him in 1950, after testifying that their five months together had been marred by "arguing and fussing." Ms. McDaniel broke down in tears when she testified that her husband tried to create dissension among the cast of her radio show and otherwise interfered with her work. "I haven't got over it yet," she said. "I got so I couldn't sleep. I couldn't concentrate on my lines."


Cenotaph at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
McDaniel died at age 57, in the hospital on the grounds of the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hillsmarker, on October 26, 1952. She was survived by her brother, Sam "Deacon" McDaniel, a film actor. Thousands of mourners turned out to remember her life and accomplishments. It was her wish to be buried in the Hollywood Cemeterymarker on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywoodmarker, along with her fellow movie stars, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, and others. 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".The owner, Jules 'Jack' Roth, refused to allow her to be interred there, because they did not take blacks. Her second choice was Rosedale Cemeterymarker, where she lies today.

In 1999, Tyler Cassity, the new owner of the Hollywood Cemetery, who had renamed it Hollywood Forever Cemeterymarker, wanted to right the wrong and have Miss McDaniel interred in the cemetery. Her family did not want to disturb her remains after the passage of so much time, and declined the offer. Hollywood Forever Cemetery then did the next best thing and built a large cenotaphmarker memorial on the lawn overlooking the lake in honor of McDaniel. It is one of the most popular sites for visitors.


The Oscar that McDaniel won was placed in the keeping of Howard Universitymarker in Washington, D.C.marker The statue disappeared during racial unrest on the Washington, D.C., campus in the late 1960s. The last will filed for probate disposed of less than $10,000 to a few relatives and friends, her estate had been eroded by medical costs. She left 1 cent to her former husband, Larry C. Williams.

Legacy and recognition

McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker in Hollywood: one for her contributions to radio at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard, and one for motion pictures at 1719 Vine Street. In 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame posthumously.

In 1994, actress and singer Karla Burns launched her one-woman show Hi-Hat-Hattie (written by Larry Parr) which examines the life of McDaniel. Burns' life has some striking similarities with McDaniel's life. She was the first black person to win the coveted Laurence Olivier Award, which is reminiscent of the success that McDaniel had with her Oscar win. Both Burns and McDaniel were born in Wichita, played Queenie in Show Boat, and share a similar physicality. Burn's first performance of Hi-Hat-Hattie was in Wichita in 1994. She went on to perform the role in several other cities through 2002 including Off-Broadway in New York and the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre in California.

In 2002, the legacy of pioneering actress Hattie McDaniel is recalled when American Movie Classics (AMC) delves into her life in the film Beyond Tara, The Extraordinary Life Of Hattie McDaniel (2001), produced and directed by Madison D. Lacy, Ph.D., and hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. The one-hour special shows the struggles and triumphs of how McDaniel, in spite of racism and adversity, knocked down the doors of Hollywood and made her presence known. The film won the 2001–2002 Daytime Emmy Award, presented on May 17, 2002, for Outstanding Special Class Special.

McDaniel was featured as the 29th inductee on the Black Heritage Series by the United States Postal Service. She was the first black Oscar winner honored with a stamp. The 39-cent stamp was released on January 29, 2006. This stamp features a 1941 photograph of McDaniel in the dress she wore on January 25, 1940.

The ceremony took place at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where the Hattie McDaniel collection includes photographs of McDaniel and other family members, as well as scripts and other documents. "She was a most special lady," McDaniel's Gone with the Wind co-star Ann Rutherford told AP Television News. Rutherford recalled how McDaniel thought some of her friends looked down on her for playing a maid "But (McDaniel) said, I'd rather play a maid than be a maid", Rutherford said.

In November 2009, on the heels of news of her acclaimed performance in the film "Precious," actress Mo'nique announced that she owns the rights to Hattie McDaniel's life story and that director Lee Daniel's is going to direct her in the role of McDaniel. Monique has this to say: "I cant wait to tell that story, because that woman was absolutely amazing. She had to stand up to the adversity of black and white (society) at a time when we really weren't accepted...I hope I can do that woman justice."



Short subjects

  • Mickey's Rescue (1934)
  • Fate's Fathead (1934)
  • The Chases of Pimple Street (1934)
  • Anniversary Trouble (1935)
  • Okay Toots! (1935)
  • Wig-Wag (1935)
  • The Four Star Boarder (1935)
  • Arbor Day (1936)


Station KOAmarker, Denvermarker, Melony Hounds (1926)

Station KNXmarker, Los Angelesmarker, The Optimistic Do-Nut Hour (1931)

CBS Network, The Beulah Show (1947)

See also


  1. MTV: Hattie McDaniel Biography
  2. Jackson, Carlton. Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel, Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1990. ISBN 1568330049
  3. "Hattie McDaniel, First African American To Win An Academy Award, Featured On New 39-Cent Postage Stamp", Press Release for US Postal Service, January 25, 2006.
  4. Jackson, Carlton. Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel, page 4
  5. Lyman, Darryl. Great African American Women, Jonathan David Company, 2005 - ISBN 0824604598
  6. Laird, Ross. Discography of Okeh Records, 1918–1934, Praeger/Greenwood, pp. 392, 446, 2004 - ISBN 0313311420
  7. Vladimir, Bogdanov. All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues, Backbeat Books, p. 274, 2003 - ISBN 0879307366
  8. Sam McDaniel at the Internet Movie Database
  9. Etta McDaniel at the Internet Movie Database
  10. Watts, Jill. Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, Harper Collins, 2005, p. 151
  11. Harris, Warren G. Clark Gable: A Biography, Harmony, (2002), page 203 - ISBN 0307237141
  12. Harris, Warren G. Clark Gable: A Biography, Harmony, (2002), page 211
  13. Time Magazine: Gone with the Wind Premiere, article dated Monday, December 25, 1939
  14. Bridges, Herb. Gone With the Wind: the Three-day Premiere in Atlanta, Mercer University Press, 1999 - ISBN 086554672X
  15. Watts, Jill. Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, 2005, page 172 - ISBN 0060514906
  16. Lyman, Darryl. Great African American Women, Jonathan David Company, 2005, p. 161 - ISBN 0824604598
  17. Lotchin, Roger W. The Way We Really Were: The Golden State in the Second Great War, University of Illinois Press, 1999, page 36 - ISBN 025206819X
  18. Hattie McDaniel Expresses Gratitude of Her Race for Recognition, at the Academy Awards, 1940
  19. American Film Institute
  20. Time Review: Thank Your Lucky Stars (Warner), Monday, October 4, 1943
  21. Three of McDaniel's episodes are readily available on videocassette and can be found by checking sources on the internet. These may be the only ones she actually filmed.
  22. Time' magazine, Victory on Sugar Hill, Monday, December 17, 1945
  23. Watts, Jill. Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, p. 328
  24. Watts, Jill. Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, p. 212
  25. Hattie McDaniel and the Negro Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee
  26. Watts, Jill. Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, page 210
  27. Spada, James. More Than a Woman: An Intimate Biography of Bette Davis, Little, Brown and Company (1993), pp. 191–192. ISBN 055356868X
  28. Watts, Jill. Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, 2006, p. 126
  29. Time Magazine article, Monday, December 31, 1945
  30. Time magazine article, Monday, December 18, 1950
  31. Long Beach Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California, Wednesday, December 6, 1950
  32. Associated Press, First black to win Oscar to get part of final wish, The Frederick Post, Frederick, MD, Monday, October 25, 1999
  33. Hattie McDaniel Gravesite
  34. The Memorial to Actress Hattie McDaniel, at Hollywood Forever Memorial Park in Hollywood, California
  35. Writer pursues mystery of missing Oscar. Sign on San Diego. September 22, 2005
  36. Watts, Jill. Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood, p. 159
  37. Hattie McDaniel Leaves "Oscar" to University. Corpus Christi Times, Corpus Christi, Texas, November 4, 1952.
  38. Gone with the Wind: Hollywood Walk of Fame Stars
  39. Ferguson, Carroy U. Transitions in Consciousness From an African American Perspective, University Press of America, p. 243, (2004) - ISBN 0761827005
  40. Karla Burns: Broadway To Vegas, May 30, 2004
  41. 2001–2002 Daytime Emmy Awards
  42. First black Oscar winner honored with stamp, Thursday, January 26, 2006
  43. I


  • The Life and Struggles of Hattie McDaniel (author Jill Watts audio interview), hear the voice of Hattie McDaniel
  • Hopper, Hedda. "Hattie Hates Nobody". Chicago Sunday Tribune, 1947.
  • Jackson, Carlton. Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1990. ISBN 1568330049
  • Mitchell, Lisa. "More Than a Mammy". Hollywood Studio Magazine, April 1979.
  • Salamon, Julie. "The Courage to Rise Above Mammyness". New York Times, August 6, 2001.
  • Watts, Jill. Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 0060514906
  • Young, Al. "I’d Rather Play a Maid Than Be One". New York Times, October 15, 1989.
  • Zeigler, Ronny. "Hattie McDaniel: ‘(I’d). . . rather play a maid.’" N.Y. Amsterdam News, April 28, 1979.
  • Access Newspaper Archive - search for "Hattie McDaniel"

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