Today’s HDT gal is actually one of my personal faves: Hattie McDaniel.
The name may not ring a bell, but the face surely will.
Hattie McDaniel was born in Kansas in 1895 to Henry, a Baptist preacher and Susan, a religious singer. Hattie was a natural performer and sang and danced with her older brother’s minstrel show. In 1925, Hattie got her big break by joinging the Melody Hounds—a touring ensemble—which turned into a career in radio.
In 1931, Hattie made her way to L.A. and got a few acting gigs here and there, but not enough to pay the bills. She made her way as a maid or washroom attendant.
Eventually, Hattie gained more and more roles in movies, acting alongside big names like Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, and Jimmy Stewart. She also became good friends with the leading man in the film Saratoga—the dashing Clark Gable.
In 1939, Hattie saw Mr. Gable again on the set of Gone With the Wind. Though some were against Hattie playing the character of “Mammy” in the David O. Selznick classic, she took on the role with fierce determination and, in this blogger’s opinion, lit up the screen.
The Academy of Motion Pictures also took notice, awarding McDaniel the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Because of unjust laws at the time, Hattie and her escort were sat far in the back of the ballroom, far from her Gone With the Wind costars. When Hattie accepted her award, however, she did so with grace and dignity:
“Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you.”
Hattie’s victories were not only limited to the Oscars. She also organized a group of African-Americans to fight against a homeowner’s group that were trying to keep blacks out of a prestigious Pasadena neighborhood. Hattie and her organization took their fight to the Supreme Court and won! In 1942, she purchased a beautiful two-story home in the Sugar Hill neighborhood and had yearly parties which her friend, Clark Gable, always attended.
Hattie volunteered for the USO, the American Women’s Voluntary Services, and organized a radio broadcast to raise money for the Red Cross.
Hattie’s acting career and philanthropic activities continued until her death in 1952. She leaves behind an amazing legacy and is a credit to her race and her gender.