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Hattie McDaniel

 Hattie McDaniel


"Why should I complain about making seven thousand dollars a week playing a maid? If I didn't, I'd be making $7 a week actually being one!"

In their roles as maids and mammies, cooks and man Fridays, some fine Black actors got to play characters who were altogether smarter, wiser and kinder than the White folks who were supposed to be their betters. A classic example is Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Selznick's 1939 Gone With the Wind. She is the only sensible and likable person in the entire epic film. It's pure old-fashioned mammy nostalgia, pulled straight from the plantation literature of the nineteenth century. And it's played with enormous wit by McDaniel, who steals the film and who received the first Oscar given to a Black performer.

After working as early as the 1910s as a band vocalist, Hattie McDaniel debuted as a maid in The Golden West (1932). Her maid-mammy characters became steadily more assertive, showing up first in Judge Priest (1934) and becoming pronounced in Alice Adams (1935). In this one, directed by George Stevens and aided and abetted by star Katharine Hepburn, she makes it clear she has little use for her employers' pretentious status seeking. By The Mad Miss Manton (1938) she actually tells off her socialite employer Barbara Stanwyck and her snooty friends. After Gone with the Wind  her roles unfortunately descended, with her characters becoming more and more menial. She played on the "Amos and Andy" and Eddie Cantor radio shows in the 1930s and 1940s; the title in her own radio show "Beulah" (1947-52), and the same part on TV in 1950. 


Hattie McDaniel and Ruby Dandridge in The Beulah Show (1952)


Her father was a slave, who was eventually freed. Hattie McDaniel is pictured on a USA 39 commemorative postage stamp in the Black Heritage series, issued in 2006.


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