Hattie McDaniel (June 10, 1895 – October 26, 1952) was an American actress, singer-songwriter, and comedienne. She is best known for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939) for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first African American to win an Academy Award.
Playing the a maid was just about the pinnacle for a Black Actress in any Hollywood movie of that era. However, Hattie did the unthinkable she won the award that year for Best Supporting Actress. She was the First African American Actress to win that Award. Not only was she the 1st African American (Man or Woman) to Win an Oscar but she beat everyone else by 15 years.
Dorothy Dandridge was the 1st African American to be Nominated for Best Lead Actress in 1954 for Carmen Jones. Sidney Poitier was the First African American male to be nominated and win an Oscar in 1958 for his role as Noah Cullen in the movie “Defiant Ones”.
Hattie McDaniel Became a sensation and a target by both the Black & White communities. The White Community was very angry that the Academy let her win an Award “Where she just plays a Maid”. The Black community was upset for her stereotypical and submissive role of a maid. Gone With The Wind was a very Racially insensitive movie, even by today’s standards. She didn’t let those criticisms stand in her way. She was an accomplished Singer in fact she was the also the 1st African American to sing on the radio.
In addition to acting in many films, McDaniel was a professional singer-songwriter, comedian, stage actress, radio performer, and television star; she was the first black woman to sing on the radio in the U.S. During her career, McDaniel appeared in over 300 films, although she only received screen credits for only 80 or so.
McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood: one at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard for her contributions to radio and one at 1719 Vine Street for acting in motion pictures. In 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006 became the first black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.
McDaniel died at age 57 on October 26, 1952, of breast cancer in the hospital on the grounds of the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills. McDaniel was survived by her brother, Sam McDaniel. Thousands of mourners turned out to celebrate her life and achievements. In her will, McDaniel wrote: “I desire a white casket and a white shroud; white gardenias in my hair and in my hands, together with a white gardenia blanket and a pillow of red roses. I also wish to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery.” The Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood is the resting place of movie stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, and others. Hollywood Cemetery refused to allow her to be buried there, because it, too, practiced racial segregation and would not accept for burial the bodies of black people. Her second choice was Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, where she lies today.