A singer-songwriter, comedienne, and actress, the first African-American entertainer to win an Academy Award. Best known for her role as ‘Mammy’ in “Gone with the Wind”, regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.
Born the youngest of 13 children to former slaves, in Wichita, Kansas. When at the age of 7 she moved with her family to Colorado, she was one of only two black children in her class.
As a young girl, she used to sing everywhere, and when turning 17, McDaniel left school to become a performer at her brother’s minstrel show. One year later she got married and left her brother’s show to organize an all-women minstrel show and to tour with a black ensemble.
After a few years, McDaniel embarked on a radio career as a performer and was among the first African-American women to perform on the radio in the US.
In the Great Crash of 1929, McDaniel, 36 years old at that time, had a hard time finding a job, so she started working as a waitress in Milwaukee, and thanks to her persistence, she shortly became a regular performer on the club’s stage.
After a few years, McDaniel joined her siblings in Los Angeles, worked with her brother on a radio program and played small roles as an extra on various Hollywood productions. Between one role to another, she worked as a cook and a maid.
Only one year later, she had made her first film appearance and eventually joined the Screen Actors Guild, and her career started to take off. She played alongside the biggest actors and filmmakers of that era, including Shirley Temple, John Ford, and Lionel Barrymore.
In 1939, at 46, Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to be nominated for an Oscar and the first one to win it. The Academy Awards ceremony took place in a segregated hotel, where McDaniel and her escort were allowed in, but they had to sit in a segregated table.
In addition to her acting career, McDaniel was committed to community service. During WW2 she was the chairman of the Hollywood Victory Committee, which entertained soldiers, raised funds for the Red Cross relief programs.
McDaniel remained active both in radio and TV, and she was the first African-American to star in her own radio show.
During her lifetime, she recorded 16 blues sides, performed on radio programs, and TV shows, and appeared in more than 300 films.
“The entire race is usually judged by the actions of one man or woman”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- McDaniel’s Oscar is missing. She willed it to Howard University, but it was lost during the 1960’ race riots and yet to be found.
- She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood: one for her contributions to radio and one for acting in motion pictures.