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Actress and radio performer Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar in 1940, for her supporting role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind.
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Actress Hattie McDaniel was born June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas. In 1925, she became one of the first African-American women on the radio. In 1934, she landed her on-screen break in Judge Priest. She became the first African American to win an Oscar in 1940, for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. In 1947, she starred on CBS radio's The Beulah Show. She died on October 26, 1952, in Los Angeles, California.
"Hell, I'd rather play a maid than be one."
"I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry."
"When I was 8 years old, I knew what I was going to be—an actress."
Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10, 1895, to a family of entertainers in Wichita, Kansas. She was her parents' 13th child. Her father, Henry, was a Baptist minister who played the banjo and performed in minstrel shows. Her mother, Susan Holbert, was a gospel singer. In 1901, McDaniel and her family moved to Denver, Colorado.
McDaniel attended the 24th Street Elementary School in Denver, where she was one of only two black students in her class. Her natural flair for singing—in church, at school and in her home—was apparent early on, and gained her popularity among her classmates. Following her elementary schooling, McDaniel attended Denver East High School for two years.
While still in high school, McDaniel started professionally singing, dancing and performing funny skits in minstrel shows. In 1910, she decided to leave school in order to train with her father's minstrel troupe full time. In 1920, she became a member of Professor George Morrison's orchestra, and toured with his and other vaudeville troops for the next five years. In 1925, she was invited to perform on Denver's KOA radio station. The performance gave McDaniel the illustrious distinction of being one of the first African-American women to sing on the radio.
Following her radio performance, McDaniel continued to work the vaudeville circuit for the next few years. When work was slow, she took a job as a restroom attendant to supplement her income. Much to her relief, in 1929, McDaniel landed a steady gig as a vocalist at Sam Pick's Club in Milwaukee.
A year or so later, McDaniel's brother, Sam, and sister, Etta, convinced her to move to Los Angeles, where they had managed to procure minor movie roles for themselves. Sam was also a regular on a KNX radio show, called The Optimistic Do-Nuts. Not long after arriving in L.A., McDaniel had a chance to appear on her brother's radio show. She was a quick hit with listeners, and was dubbed "Hi-Hat Hattie" for donning formal wear during her first KNX radio performance.
In 1931 McDaniel scored her first small film role as an extra in a Hollywood musical. In 193, she won a larger role as a housekeeper in The Golden West. McDaniel continued to land bit parts here and there, but, as roles for blacks were hard to come by at the time, she was once again forced to take odd jobs to make ends meet.
McDaniel landed her first major on-screen break in 1934, singing a duet with Will Rogers in John Ford's Judge Priest. The following year, McDaniel was awarded the role of Mom Beck, starring opposite Shirley Temple and Lionel Barrymore in The Little Colonel.
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