Hattie McDaniel This paper examines the life and achievements of Hattie McDaniel. Hattie McDaniel paved the way for many black actors and performers today. Hattie was one of the first African American women on radio. On radio Hattie was known for her comedy and singing. Her first major acting role was in a film named Judge Priest. She was the first African American to win an Academy award. She won for her supporting role as Mammy in the film “Gone with the Wind. ” Hattie McDaniel journey to success wasn’t easy. She went through many controversies and racial setbacks in order to gain her success in the entertainment industry.
Her journey gave African American the push to change the portrayal of African Americans in radio, television and film. Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10, 1893. She was from Wichita, Kansas. Hattie was the 13th child born to her parents. Hattie McDaniel was destined to be an entertainer, because her family was gifted with musical talents. Hattie’s father Henry McDaniel was a Baptist minister, carpenter, banjo player, minstrel player, and construction worker (Jackson). Henry would eventually take his love for music and form a family minstrel group.
Hattie’s family later moved to Denver, Colorado. Hattie was one of the few black students that attend her elementary school. Despite the racial tension during this time, Hattie was loved by all her teachers and classmates. Her teachers would let Hattie recite poetry, sing popular songs for the class, and read her classmate’s bible verses (Jackson). Hattie began singing at a Baptist church in Denver. As a child Hattie would sing so much that her mother would tell her to stop singing. As a high school student Hattie started preforming professionally.
After only completing two years of high school Hattie dropped out of school, and decided to pursue her career in show business. She would join her father and older brother’s minstrel group and travel on the road with them. Hattie McDaniel became the wife of Howard Hickman and went on to make an all-women’s minstrel show (biography). During the 1920’s Hattie was singing on the radio with “Professor George Morrison and his Melody Hounds,” one of Denver’s most respected black musical groups, and touring vaudeville circuits throughout the West (reclassic). She would work with them for five years.
Hattie was invited to perform on a radio station called Denver’s KOA radio station. She still would work the vaudeville circuits establishing herself as a blues singer and writing her own music. When projects started becoming limited Hattie took on a job as a washroom attendant to help with her income. Hattie’s rendition of “St. Louis Blues” ended her career as a ladies’ room attendant, and she continued as a regular attraction at the club for almost two years (reclassic). After taking some advice from some of her relatives, Hattie decided to move to Hollywood for more opportunities for her career.
Hattie found work on her brother’s radio show, while she was launching her career in film. She was a big success on the show, and formed her radio persona “Hi Hat Hattie. ” Eventually, Hattie started to get small roles in films. In 1934 she stared in a movie with Will Rogers’s called the Judge Priest. Will Rodgers commended Hattie for her talents and professionalism. Her performance in Judge Priest opened up many other comedic roles for her acting career. Hattie landed parts in films such as, Alice Adams, Show Boat, and The Mad Miss Manton.
Over the years, Hattie had proven that she could play the role of a devoted maid and domestic servant who was not afraid to pin point her boss’s flaws. The role that made Hattie McDaniel an important figure in African American and film history was her character Mammy in the film “Gone with the Wind. ” Mammy was a house servant of Scarlett Johansson’s character Vivian Leigh. Her ability to project moral authority over her white charges with endearing comedic sass, as well as near-maternal concern and heartbreak, earned her an Academy Award as the year’s Best Supporting Actress (reclassic).
Gone with the Wind was one of the most anticipated movies of this time. The city of Atlanta threw a lavish party to celebrate the movie. Thousands of people came out to show their support for the movie. Hattie and other black cast members were not allowed to attend the film’s premiere in 1939, aired at the Loew’s Grand Theatre on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia (biography). Georgia’s segregation laws kept Hattie and others from attending the premiere. Hattie’s cohost Clark Gable threatened to boycott the premiere on Hattie’s behalf, but she urged him to attend the event and help promote the film (Murphy).
Hattie did not only make history by becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award, but also made history by being the first African American to attend the Academy Award Banquet. Hattie would then again feel the reality of discrimination during the ceremony. Hattie and her date were seated at their own table away from her cast members and other nominees during the ceremony (Murphy). Despite all the judgement surrounding her Hattie accepted her award, and delivered a phenomenal acceptance speech.
Hattie’s success in Gone with the Wind established her as one of the top black actresses in Hollywood. Hattie enjoyed her glamorous moments after her Gone with the Wind success. She was the most talked about person in the press and was on every newspaper. However, she received a lot of scrutiny and criticism from the black press before and after her big win. African Americans on television typically had lower status roles and were depicted as having lower educational levels than Whites (Punyanunt). A lot of critics did not like the roles that Hollywood gave to black actors and actresses.
The media often portrayed African Americans in occupational roles, such as a servant, a crook, a cook, an entertainer, a musician, a sad non-White person, an exhibitionist, an athlete, or a corrupt individual(Punyanunt). The African American community started to feel like, Hollywood was being offensive to their race. Hattie was mostly criticized for her character, mom Beck in The Little Colonel, McDaniel had been attacked by the media for taking parts that perpetuated a negative stereotype of blacks (biography).
Hattie was criticized by members of the NAACP, because she accepted roles as servants and maids. Walter White, then president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pleaded with African-American actors to stop accepting such stereotypical parts, as he believed they degraded their community (biography). He also insisted that movie studios should create better roles for African Americans, because the African American race had far more triumphs than just catering to the white race. Hattie did not let the criticism of her roles get the best of her.
She respond to the criticism the best way she could by stating that, “I’d rather make seven hundred dollars playing a maid than making seven dollars being one (Murphy). ” Although Hattie made it clear that she was fine with the roles that Hollywood offered her. Hattie’s success as an actress took the opposite direction than what other Academy Award winner’s careers experience. When the civil rights movement started to progress, the roles that Hattie was used to being typecast for vanished. She found herself not getting the proper roles for her performance background.
Her most significant film roles of the early 1940s were as devoted domestics in such Warner Bros. classics as They Died with Their Boots On, The Great Lie, The Male Animal, and In This Our Life, all of which offered her co-star billing below the title as well as showcased comic or dramatic scenes (reclassic). Once Hattie’s film career started to wine down due to all the controversy. Hattie decided that it was time to return to radio since roles were not available. From 1947 to 1951, Hattie starred as the title character in CBS’s popular radio show “Beulah,” playing a straight-talking servant in a white household with her usual flair or comic timing (reclassic).
The Beulah show was a radio success, and CBS decided that it should move to television. Hattie only got a chance to film two episodes of The Beulah Show, because she found out that she had breast cancer. When Hattie became ill CBS did not cancel the show instead actress Louise Beavers stepped in to assume her role on the TV show, which had initially been played by Ethel Waters (biography). Hattie McDaniel lost her battle to breast cancer on October 26, 1952. Before Hattie passed she made it clear that she wanted to be buried in the famous cemetery Hollywood Forever.
Her request was denied because during the time African Americans were not allowed to be buried there. Even after death, Hattie was still treated like a second class citizen. In her final act Hattie willed her Oscar trophy to Howard University (Murphy). Hattie thought it was the safest place to achieve her award, and thought it would be an inspiration for young black performers. According to Howard University they never received Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar. The Mystery of the missing Oscar is still unknown. Since Hattie’s death she has been award two stars on the Hollywood walk of fame, and was abducted into the black filmmaker’s hall of fame.
In conclusion, Hattie McDaniels faced many obstacles in order to live out her dreams of becoming a performer, and making a name for herself in Hollywood. Today, we still see some of these obstacles that Hattie and other black actors had to go through, but we have examples like Hattie McDaniel’s to show us that we can make a changes in these dynamics. She paved the way for not only black performers, but for the African American community as a whole. I believe that Hattie McDaniel is a credit to her race.