- NAME: Hattie McDaniel
- OCCUPATION: Film Actress
- BIRTH DATE: June 10, 1895
- DEATH DATE: October 26, 1952
- Did You Know?: Hattie McDaniel was the first black performer to win an Academy Award, earning the best supporting actress prize for her role as Mammy in the epic Gone with the Wind (1939).
- Did You Know?: All of Gone with the Wind's black actors, including Hattie McDaniel, were barred from attending the film's premiere in 1939.
- Did You Know?: Hattie McDaniel was the first black woman to sing on the radio in America.
- EDUCATION: 24th Street Elementary School, Denver East High School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Wichita, Kansas
- PLACE OF DEATH: Woodland Hills, California
- Nickname: Hi-Hat Hattie
- Full Name: Hattie McDaniel
Best Known For
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.
Actress Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar in 1940, for her role as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind."
Opened in 1913, the Hotel Theresa was considered the "Waldorf Astoria of Harlem" welcoming famous African-Americans, such as Joe Louis and Lena Horne, who were turned away from "whites only" hotels.
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The part gained McDaniel the attention of Hollywood directors, and was followed by a steady stream of offers.
In 1939, McDaniel accepted a role that would mark the highlight of her entertainment career. As Mammy, Scarlett O'Hara's house servant in Gone with the Wind, McDaniel earned the 1940 Academy Award for best supporting actress—becoming the first African American to win an Oscar. All of the film's black actors, including McDaniel,
were barred from attending the film's premiere in 1939, aired at the Loew's Grand Theatre on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia.
Later, during World War II, McDaniel helped entertain American troops and promoted the sale of war bonds.
Through the mid-1940s, McDaniel appeared in additional films, primarily playing roles that members of the post-war progressive black community were beginning to cite as offensively old-fashioned. Since playing Mom Beck in The Little Colonel, McDaniel had been attacked by the media for taking parts that perpetuated a negative stereotype of blacks; she was criticized for playing servants and slaves who were seemingly content to retain their role as such.
Walter White, then president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pleaded with African-American actors to stop accepting such stereotypical roles, as he believed they degraded the black community. He also urged movie studios to start creating roles that portrayed blacks as capable of achieving far more than cooking and cleaning for white people.
In her defense, McDaniel responded by asserting her prerogative to accept whatever roles she chose. She also suggested that characters like Mammy proved themselves as more than just measuring up to their employers.
As the Civil Rights Movement progressed, the sort of roles for which McDaniel was typecast began to gradually disappear. As a result of her conflict with the NAACP, she was also no longer a popular choice for film roles. Movie offers eventually stopped coming altogether.
McDaniel reacted to the decline in her acting career by making a strategic return to radio in the late 1940s. In 1947, she took the starring role on CBS radio’s The Beulah Show. Although McDaniel was once again playing a maid, she managed—to the NAACP's approval—to use her talents to break racial stereotypes rather than reinforce them.
In 1951, McDaniel started filming for a television version of The Beulah Show. Unexpectedly, she suffered a heart attack around the same time, but was able to resume filming after a short recovery period. When McDaniel was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1952, actress Louise Beavers stepped in to assume her role on the TV show.
Hattie McDaniel lost her battle with cancer in Los Angeles, California, on October 26, 1952. Since her death, McDaniel has been posthumously awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Additionally, in 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
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