“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”


Ok, so Hattie McDaniel* didn’t say those words, but she was in the movie Gone with the Wind (1939) as Mammy, a maid who was smarter, wiser and kinder than the white people who surrounded her. Playing a maid was typical for black actresses, but being smarter wasn’t. She played the part with such precision and wit, it awarded her with the first Oscar given to a black performer.

Hattie McDaniel was born June 10, 1892 in Wichita, Kansas to a father who had been a slave and was freed. She went on to become a vaudeville star as a singer and dancer. Her roles as maid grew sharper and wittier each time, culminating as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. She was good friends with Clark Gable who threatened to boycott the premier of the movie in Atlanta because McDaniel wasn’t invited but she was able to convince him to go. She had told director Victor Fleming that she wouldn’t be able to make it; however, in reality, she said this because she didn’t want to cause trouble in Atlanta where racism was rampant.

Upon winning her Oscar, unfortunately, the characters she portrayed became more mundane. In the 1930s and 1940s, she played on the “Amos and Andy” show, as well as Eddie Cantor radio shows, and eventually landed her own radio show “Beulah” which became a TV show in 1950. She died on October 26, 1952 from breast cancer and was the first African American to be buried at Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles. She was awarded two Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for Radio and one for Motion Pictures. In 2006, the US Postal Service created a commemorative stamp in her name.


“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!” – Hattie McDaniel.

A scene from “The Beulah Show” (1952) starring Hattie McDaniel and Ruby Dandridge.

* Biographical information gathered from here and here.


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