Hattie McDaniel

Singer / actress on radio, television and film.

One of the great American character actresses, Hattie McDaniel was born in Wichita, Kansas on June 10, 1895. She dropped out of school in 1910 to join a minstrel show. She toured with minstrel shows and vaudeville (including the Shrine and Elks circuit and the Pantages circuit) until the onset of the depression. Taking a job as a bathroom attendant in a nightclub in Milwaukee, her vocal talents were soon discovered by the proprietor, and Hattie spent about a year singing in the club before moving to Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, her brother found a part for her on a radio show called “The Optimistic Donuts.” It wasn’t long before Hattie became the show’s main attraction. Hattie’s film debut was in 1932, and she found her first major role in the 20th Century-Fox film, Judge Priest. She sang a duet with Will Rogers in this film. She appeared in many films for the remainder of the 1930s and on through the 1940s, including Shirley Temple’s The Little Colonel. Hattie was also on numerous radio shows throughout the 1930s and ’40s, including the Eddie Cantor Show and Amos ‘n Andy.

In 1939, Hattie won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. Other significant roles include Queenie in Universal’s 1936 production of Show Boat (she also toured with road companies of Show Boat) and Emily Hawkin in Selznick’s Since You Went Away (1944), with Shirley Temple, Claudette Colbert and Jennifer Jones. She also played the part of Aunt Tempy in Disney’s Song of the South (1946).

In 1947, she found a regular part on radio in The Beulah Show. In 1951, the show left radio in favor of television, and Hattie stayed with the show until her death; she died of breast cancer at age 57 on October 26, 1952. Hattie was married four times, but none of her marriages lasted very long.

Hattie has been immortalized by her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939) and as Queenie in Show Boat (1936). But, many of us will remember her for her jovial personality, her outspoken and spunky nature, and that unmistakable laugh.