Hattie McDaniel was an American actress and she was the first African American to win an Academy Award which she won for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind.
She was born in Wichita, KS on June 10, 1895. The youngest of 13 children of a Baptist minister, who played the banjo and performed in minstrel shows, and his singer wife - both former slaves.
While still in high school, Hattie started professionally singing, dancing and performing funny skits in minstrel shows. In 1925, she became one of the first African-American women on the radio. In 1934, she landed her on-screen break in Judge Priest. And in 1939, she accepted a role that would mark the highlight of her entertainment career. As Mammy, Scarlett O'Hara's house servant in Gone with the Wind.
Despite the segregation in the world at large, she became a close friend to many of her Hollywood co-stars, among them Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, Joan Crawford, Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple, living and working among them as something like a peer. Unfortunately she drew fire from some blacks for choosing to play second class Americans and attacked by the media for taking parts that perpetuated a negative stereotype of blacks; she was criticized for playing servants and slaves who were seemingly content to retain their role as such - prompting the quick-witted actress to quip "I'd rather play a maid than be one." A motto that she lived by. She asserted her prerogative to accept whatever roles she chose, suggesting that characters like Mammy proved themselves as more than just measuring up to their employers.
Nearly 3000 mourners attended Hattie's funeral service, which included many Hollywood movie stars. After the ceremony, 125 limousines formed the procession line to follow the body to the cemetery. At the time of her death in 1952, she could not be buried in the cemetery of her choice -- Hollywood Memorial Park -- because of racial segregation. Her second choice, Rosedale Cemetery also had a similar policy, but it was waived and the actress became the first African-American buried there. In October 1999, the new owners of the Hollywood Memorial Park, now renamed Hollywood Forever Cemetery, offered to have Hattie interred there, but her family did not want to disturb her remains so they declined. Instead, the owner unveiled a granite monument in her honor. Its one of Hollywood's most popular tourist attractions. Hattie was 57 at the time of her death from breast cancer.
Since her death, McDaniel has been posthumously awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Additionally, in 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.