Job Actress
Years active 1932-1949
Known for Archetypal black ladys-maids; first African-American actress to win Academy Award
Top Roles Hilda, Rosetta Washington, Belvedere, Violet, Tira's Maid
Top GenresComedy, Drama, Romance, Musical, Film Adaptation, War
Top TopicsBook-Based, Screwball Comedy, Romance (Drama)
Top Collaborators (Producer), (Producer), (Director), (Producer)
Shares birthday with Judy Garland, Sessue Hayakawa, William A. Seiter  see more..

Hattie McDaniel Overview:

Legendary character actress, Hattie McDaniel, was born on Jun 10, 1895 in Wichita, KS. McDaniel died at the age of 57 on Oct 26, 1952 in Woodland Hills, CA and was laid to rest in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.

Early Life

Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10th, 1895 in Wichita, Kansas. She was the youngest of 13 children born to former slaves. Her father, Henry, fought with the Union Army in the American Civil War and went on to become a Baptist minister, carpenter and part time minstrel performer. Her mother also had a gift for performance and spent her time as gospel singer. In 1900 the family packed their bags and moved west to Denver, Colorado. McDaniel attended an integrated public school and while she was only one of two black students in her entire elementary school, she thrived in her new environment. McDaniel took after her mother and father, proving to have a strong talent for singing and performance. In 1908 it is reported she had won an elocution contest and after attending two years at East Denver High School, McDaniel dropped-out to join her father's  Minstrel show. The show consisted almost entirely of the McDaniel Family. During her years performing with her family McDaniel also honed her songwriting abilities, eager to become a multi-talented performer.

Solo Early Career

After the death of her older brother, Otis, in 1916, the show began to lose money and quickly dissolved. She spent the next few years working several jobs to make ends meet. In 1920 she caught a break when she joined Professor George Morrison's Melody Hounds, one of the most well respected all black touring companies in Denver. She would spend the next five years touring the western vaudeville circuits. In the mid-twenties McDaniel began her successful radio career. In 1925 she sang live with the Melody Hounds on Denver radio, thus making her one of the first black women to sing on public American radio. The next year she began her recording career at both Okeh and Paramount records, recording in Chicago between 1926-1929. Although her career seemed to be on the upswing, the stock market crash would put an end to that. Despite her talent as a performer, she could only find work as a laborer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She found herself working as ladies room attendant at the Club Madrid and asked the owner to allow her to perform. Although he was initially reluctant, he allowed McDaniel to sing. Soon McDaniel was out of the bathroom and onto the stage as a regular act on the Club Madrid stage.

Hollywood Career

After performing in Milwaukee for a couple years, in 1931 McDaniel went west to live her family. Although she had originally gone with the intent of starting a films career, no offers came her way. Still eager to get back into show business, she soon began working on the radio show called The Optimistic Do-Nut Hour. Although the show had an overwhelming popularity, McDaniel's salary was pitifully low that she continued to moonlight as a maid to pay the bills. In early 1932 McDaniel began getting uncredited roles in films such as The Impatient Maiden, Are You Listen?, and Crooner, most often as a background singer. Later that year she was finally offered a more substantial  role in the film The Golden West as a maid. The next year she once again played a maid in the incredibly successful Mae West vehicle I'm Not Angel. By the start of 1934 McDaniel had appeared in over a dozen uncredited roles in a mere two years and began to attract attention. Later that year she joined the Screen Actors Guild and received her first screen credit in the John Ford film Judge Priest. John Ford was so impressed with McDaniel's ability as a performer that he added scenes to specifically showcase McDaniel's talents. The film was hit and McDaniel's performance was critically acclaimed. She also remained incredibly busy, appearing in a dozen film that year along.

In 1935 McDaniel kept up her busy pace by appearing in 14 films including The Four Boarder Sisters, Wig-Wag, Murder By Television, and Another Face. Her most prominent role of the came from the George Steven romance Alice Adams. Like the rest of her previous role, McDaniel played the sassy maid to white family. She repeated the role in the adventure film China Seas.  That year she also appeared opposite Shirley Temple, and Bill "Bogangles" Robinson in The Little Colonel. The film starred Jean Harlow and Clark Gable and marked the start of her friendship with the future king of Hollywood. McDaniel's popularity only grew and the next year she was cast in big screen adaption of Show Boat. In the film she played Queenie, the boats sass-talking cook and shared a song, Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man with Irene Dunn. The next year she once again appeared with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable in the hit film Saratoga. She also appeared in hit films of 1937 such as Stella Dallas, Nothing Sacred and 45 Fathers. The next year McDaniel continued to make appearance in popular films. In 1938 she appeared opposite screen darlings Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the musical comedy Carefree. Later she appeared with Henry Fonda and Barbra Stanwyck in the screwball comedy The Mad Miss Morton.

Criticism and Gone With The Wind

At this point in her career, McDaniel was one of the most popular black actress in American and had made friends with many of Hollywood's top white stars such as Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda and many others. It was also during this time that McDaniel began to receive criticism from the black community. The criticism came from her willingness to accept and play stereotypical roles such as cook and maids. Organizations such as the NAACP saw her work as demeaning, degrading, and simply untrue in its representation to the modern black experience. Although completely understanding of the critics, Hattie worked to add at least some black representation on the silver screen. She also is quoted as stating, "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." 

In the late 1930's casting began for the David O' Selznick's big screen adaption of Gone with the Wind. Although McDaniel seemed like a natural to play the role of Scarlett's faithful maid, Mammy, the completion was great. McDaniel was also at a slight disadvantage due to her reputation as a comedic actress. However, when McDaniel walked into her audition in her own maid's uniform, the role was hers and the rest is Hollywood history.

The premier venue of 1939's greatest pictures turned out to be a major ordeal for all the black actors involved with the production. Because the film was to have its first screen at the Lowe's Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, all of the film' black actors were advised not to attend due to the segregation laws that were still strong in the south. Because of his great friendship with McDaniel, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the Grand Theatre premier if she wasn't  permitted to attend. McDaniel, however, convinced him attend it anyway. Although she was not able to attend the Atlanta premier, she was featured front and center at the Hollywood premier a week later. The film, to the surprise to no one, was a huge hit. Critics loved it and audiences flocked to see it. It still remains one of the highest grossing films of all-time when factoring inflation. McDaniel's was often praised for her equally comical and endearing portrayal of Scarlett's closest confidant. For her efforts, at the 12th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony, McDaniel was Award the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Not only was she the first black actor to win an Academy Award, she was also the first to attend the Awards banquet. Despite this honor, she and her black escort where forced to sit a segregated table, away from the rest of Gone With the Wind cohorts. Although the film solidified her status as Hollywood's leading black actress, she was still targeted by black activists who remained critical of her choice of role.

Later Career and Life

Despite her popularity among audiences and the Hollywood community, McDaniel's roles were still severely limited. She would continue to play servants and maids in films such as The Great Lie, Affectionately Yours, and They Died with Their Boots On. In the 1942 film In This Our Life, although still regulated to a maid, she at least played the mother an educated, hard working young black falsely man accused of murder. Although the film received mixed reviews, many critics agreed its highlight was the realistic portrayal of America's racial relations. During World War II, McDaniel joined the Hollywood Victory committee to provide entertainment and boost the moral of stationed solders. Because the U.S army was still segregated, she served as the Chairman of the "Negro Division." She made many personal visits at military hospitals, performed at the USO, and hosted war bond rallies.

After the war, McDaniel went back to acting but couldn't escape the role of a maid and in 1949 she made her final big screen appearance in the forgettable Mickey Rooney racing film The Big Wheel. Although she was done with big screen, McDaniel remained active in radio and television. She became the first black performer to have her own radio show with Beluah. She starred in the second season of the television show before being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1952. Hattie McDaniel died on October 26th, 1952 in Woodland Hills, California. She was 57 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Hattie McDaniel was nominated for one Academy Award, winning for Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind (as Mammy) in 1939.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1939Best Supporting ActressGone with the Wind (1939)MammyWon

She was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the categories of Motion Pictures and Radio. In addition, McDaniel was immortalized on a US postal stamp in 2006.

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Not only was the first African American to win an Academy Award but she was also the first African American to sing on the radio. Some of her movies include: The Little Colonel (1935), China Seas (1935), Alice Adams (1935), Saratoga (1937), Vivacious Lady (1938), and of course Gone W... Read full article

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Hattie McDaniel Quotes:

Colonel William G. Smollett: Well, isn't anybody interested in this cake? By the way, Fidelia, just what was the experimentation you referred to in connection with this cake?
Fidelia: I tried something new. I bought it.

[choked up about Rhett and Scarlett]
Mammy: He went out and shot that poor pony, and, for a minute, I thought he was gonna shoot himself.

Bridget 'Brig' Hilton: Class president! Class pin-up girl. I heard all about how she got elected.
Mrs. Anne Hilton: Oh, that's not fair, Brig. Becky's a very bright girl.
Mrs. Emily Hawkins: She most certainly is. I would say that Becky's one of the brightest, and one of the most attractive girls in this town.
Mrs. Anne Hilton: Oh, I wouldn't go so far as to say that.
Fidelia: No, ma'am!

read more quotes from Hattie McDaniel...

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Best Supporting Actress Oscar 1939

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Hattie McDaniel on the
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Hattie McDaniel Facts
Profiled in book "Funny Ladies" by Stephen Silverman. [1999]

Arguably the first African-American woman to sing on radio (1915, with Professor George Morrison's Negro Orchestra, Denver, CO); first African-American to be buried in Los Angeles' Rosedale Cemetery

Lived in a middle class African American section of Los Angeles coined "Sugar Hill".

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