Hattie Mc Daniel ... Where is Her Missing Oscar?
Hattie McDaniel Oscar Acceptance Speech
Hattie McDaniel 1895 - 1952
December 1939 marked the premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the stars were present for the event, but the black actors on the film were not allowed to attend because of Jim Crow laws. The programs for the event were adorned with a picture of the actress, Hattie McDaniel's picture on the back, these were destroyed and a lesser Caucasian character, Alicia Rhett picture was its replacement.
The Twelfth Annual Academy Awards Presentation Dinner was scheduled for February 29, 1940, at the Ambassador Hotel's Coconut Grove. The Grove was deck out in typical Hollywood flare, Ms. McDaniel was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but was segregated in the ballroom's black section. Hattie accepted her Oscar that night not as a maid or slave, but as a star. Later in life Ms. McDaniel stated; "it was the happiest night of her life" as well it should have been, the "Oscar" is the pinnacle of most actors careers.
Even with the vicious slights and segregation from her counterparts Hattie Mcdaniel stood at the poteum and received the award humbly and beautifully.
Career and Life History
McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood walk of fame. One for her contribution to radio at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard and at 1719 Vine Street, for contribution to the movie industry with her appearance in 300 movies from 1932 - 1952, unfortunately, she only received credit for 80. Two stars was the least Hollywood could do, as a pioneer in the film industry for people of color she deserved so much more than what she received.
Born on June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas to former slaves, the youngest of 13 children. Henry McDaniel fought in the Civil war with the 122nd USCT and her mother, Susan Holbert, was a singer of religious music. Hatties' family moved to Fort Collins, Colorado in 1900 and then to Denver, where Hattie grew up and she graduated from Denver East High School.
There were two other actors in the McDaniel clan, Sam McDaniel (1856 - 1962) who played a butler in a Three Stooges short film Heavenly Daze. The other was actress Etta McDaniel. Father McDaniel created his own minstrel show, in which Hattie wrote many of the songs used in the sketches honing her skill as a songstress.
1920 - 25 Hattie appeared with Professor George Morrison's Melony Hounds, a touring black ensemble, and in the mid 1920s she embarked on a radio career. This was the beginning of her professional singing radio career on station KOA in Denver. In 1927 - 1929 Ms. McDaniel recorded many of her on songs on Okeh and Paramount Records in Chicago.
After the crash of 1929 Hattie was unable to find work in her chosen profession, and had to work as a washroom attendant and waitress at Club Madrid in Milwaukee. McDaniel became a regular entertainer in the club, but not until after a struggle of wills with the owner due to his reluctance about letting her perform to his all white audience.
In 1931 Hattie joined her brother Sam, sisters Etta and Orlenda in Los Angeles, California. When unable to get film work she was employed as a maid or cook. Sam was working on a KNX radio show called The Optimistic Do-Nut Hour and was able to get his sister, Hattie a small part. The part was of a maid who often "forgot her place" named Hi-Hat Hattie, this show became highly popular, but the pay was so low that McDaniel had to still work as a real maid to make ends meet.
In 1934 Hattie McDaniel joined the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), because of this she landed larger film roles and began to win screen credits. She was soon signed with Fox Film Corporation and appeared in the Little Colonel with Shirley Temple, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Lionel Barrymore.
Hattie appeared in several films with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable and was befriended by the elite of Hollywood, Bankhead, Crawford, Bette Davis, Fonda, Reagan, de Havilland and Gable.
Around this time Ms. McDaniel was criticized by some of the black community for the roles she chose. Hattie's retort; "I rather make $7000 a week playing a maid than $7.00 being one." Ironically at the same time she angered White Southerners by her "uppity" portrayal of Malena in RKO Pictures Alice Adams. In this film Hattie managed to steal a few scenes from the star Katharine Hepburn, later she became known for this type of character, sassy, independent minded, opinionated servant to the rich.
Gone with the Wind, the competition for the role of Mammy was as stiff as that of the major roles. The author wrote film producer David O. Selznick to ask that her own maid, Elizabeth McDuffie, be given the part. McDaniel was sure she would not be chosen for the part because most of her roles were as a comic actress. Clark Gable recommended the role go to McDaniel; she showed up at the audition, in a full authentic maid uniform, won the part and the rest is history.
Hattie would later state that she loved the part of Mammy, because she drew upon her own grandmothers experience on a plantation much like Tara. Those in the South that were frightened by McDaniel'sperformance complained that she was too familiar with her white employer. Such simpletons, in time of war caste and color lines become very blurry.
Ms. McDaniel's was to have her own televised series, Beulah, taking over the role from Ethel Water, at $2,000 a week. Unfortunately, she was only able to film two or three episodes, in the spring of 1952 she was too ill to work and was replaced by Louise Beavers.
Now Here Lies the Mystery
Hattie McDaniel was diagnosed with breast cancer, toward the end of her life she started to give away some of her worldly possessions. One of these items was her Oscar, which was given to Howard University in Washington, D.C.
It was situated in a place of honor at the Howard's fine arts complex and then it disappeared and remains missing to this day. Rumor has it that during a period of student unrest in the late 1960s or early 1970s it was stolen. Done away with as a type of protest to what some feel was a symbol of the degradation of blacks on film. This is only one of the rumors, some say its simply misplaced, whatever the case the statue is gone. The symbol of Ms. McDaniel's contribution not only to the film industry, but to we as a people. Hattie McDaniel was the one who took her dainty little foot and kicked opened the door for those that followed.
Racism Followed McDaniel Even to the Grave
1. The Sugar Hill Case - a well kept West Adams Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles. The property was going for $15,000 and up and there were a few black celebrities, including McDaniel who could afford to such homes. Some whites had racial restriction covenants drawn up in the property titles to prevent blacks from purchasing the homes. For seven years the whites tried to sell their homes to their own and failed. Finally Superior Judge Thurmond Clarke decided to visit the neighborhood once done the next day he threw the case out of court.
His reason: "its time that members of the Negro race are accorded, without reservations or evasions, the full rights guaranteed them under the 14th Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Judges have been avoiding the real issue too long". As a loan processor I've seen titles in Los Angeles even today that still have the covenant written into the property's legal description, but they are no longer adhered too.
The judges ruling aided in allowing McDaniel to purchase her dream home. A white, seventeen room home, with a drawing room, butler's pantry library and basement. Every year until she fell ill Hattie would throw a Hollywood party and every year Clark Gable was in attendance.
2. The academy has refused to replace the missing statuette in honor of Ms. McDaniel. Typical, Hollywood likes to pretend that they're a loving giving community, but the black heart of racism still pumps in the chests of the powers that be, the movers and shakers. The next Oscar awarded to a black woman would be 51 years later to Whoopi Goldberg for Ghosts. The Oscar should have been given to her for The Color Purple, strangely when her Oscar was sent out to be cleaned it too ended up missing, but was found later in a trash bin.
3. Hattie McDaniel died at age 57 on October 26, 1952. It was her last wish to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood along with other "Hollywood elite". The owner of the cemetery refused to allow the interment because they did not take blacks. Her second choice was Rosedale Cemetery where she lies to this day.
In 1999, under new ownership, the Hollywood Cemetery wanted to right the wrong to Ms. Daniels, but the famiy declined as not to disturb her from her final resting place. Instead the cemetery erected a large Cenotaph in her honor overlooking a lake, and it is the most popular site for visitors. At least the cemetery owners were more forgiving and caring than the Academy.
Ms. McDaniel Will and Is Being Remember
In 1994 Karla Burns, actress and singer launched a one-woman show in honor of Ms. McDaniel "Hi-Hat Hattie" which also examines Hattie's life.
In 2009 academy award nominee, Mo'nique, for the movie Precious, a Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey production bought the rights to McDaniel's life. Lee Daniels will direct the actress in the movie and Mo'nique states; "that she can't wait to tell this lady's story, because she was absolutely amazing. She had to stand up to the adversity of black and white society at a time when we weren't accepted...I hope I can do that woman justice."
You know what from what I've heard about Mo'nique's performance in Precious..I sure she'll do just fine.