“Every picture and every line belonged to Hattie. She knew she was supposed to be subservient, but she never delivered a subservient.”
– Mabell Collins – McDaniels’ descendant
Beyond Tara: The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel
Documentary about actress Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award, but often typecast as a domestic servant at a time when African Americans were growing angrier at Hollywood’s demeaning depictions of them. Narrated by Academy Award Winner Whoopi Goldberg
GONE WITH THE WIND
Production Was a Nightmare
“While landing the part of Mammy was a dream come true for Hattie, working on the actual set was a nightmare of epic proportion. Within the first three weeks of shooting, the producer fired the first director, hired the second, and was already searching for a third. Even with the directorial issues, Hattie and the rest of the cast were putting in hellish hours wearing heavy costumes in the equally hellish heat. A recipe for disaster.”
“Hattie McDaniel is best remembered today for her role in the film Gone With The Wind. She won the 1939 Academy Award for best-supporting actress for her portrayal of Mammy. She was the first African-American to be nominated for, and to win, an Academy Award. Hattie got her start in show business with her family’s traveling Baptist tent show. As a teenager, Hattie performed in the touring vaudeville outfit the Spikes Brothers Comedy Stars on the West Coast. In the early 1920s, she was singing with George Morrison’s Orchestra in Denver and toured the Pantages and Orpheum vaudeville circuit with them. She made her recording debut in 1926 but never had much of a recording career, but she was a popular live act. As the Blues craze died out in the late 1920s, Hattie started appearing in theatrical productions. She was in the touring company of Showboat from 1929 to 1930. In the early 1930s, she settled in Hollywood and began her career as a film actress. She was almost always cast as a maid, cook, nanny, or servant of some sort, these being the only types of roles available for African-Americans at the time. She appeared in over seventy movies during the 1930s.”
Butterfly McQueen and Hattie McDaniels on the set and of Gone with the Wind.
“Most of the Black cast got through the grueling schedule by rallying behind their co-stars, applauding their efforts after finishing a scene. Even so, there was one actress who rubbed Hattie the wrong way. Butterfly McQueen, famous for her portrayal of the meek maid, Prissy, spent her days on set disgruntled.
Tensions Began to Rise
Despite all of the racial politics surrounding the film, Hattie remained loyal to the project, going so far as to say in an official press conference, “There is nothing in this picture that will injure colored people.” Butterfly McQueen, on the other hand, felt the film disrespected people of color and became determined to sabotage the set. Initially, the young actress flubbed her lines on purpose to delay production. Soon thereafter, she went after the stars.
Because of her role, Butterfly had numerous scenes with Vivien Leigh, one of which included Scarlett O’Hara slapping Prissy. While filming this particular scene, the slap awoke Butterfly’s anger. The actress was tired of being obedient, so, in an effort to gain some respect, she demanded that Leigh apologize. Seeing that tensions were running high, Hattie intervened.
Keeping the Peace
Per Butterfly McQueen, Hattie quickly intervened after she demanded an apology from Vivien Leigh. Though she was trying to get the actress to calm down, her advice only made Butterfly angrier. Loyal to the project and very aware of how quickly a black actress could get blacklisted, she told Butterfly to stop causing trouble, saying, “You’ll never come back to Hollywood; you complain too much.”
When production finally came to a close on Gone With the Wind, producer David O. Selznick was in awe of Hattie’s portrayal of Mammy. The character was so mesmerizing that he became concerned she may take away from the performances of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Because of her race, that wasn’t the only concern he had when it came to Hattie McDaniel.
The Betrayals Begin
Knowing that Hattie McDaniel was such an integral factor in the film’s success, Selznick soon realized he had a huge problem on his hands. The premiere of Gone With the Wind was scheduled for December 15, 1939, at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. Because of the state’s segregation laws, no person of color was allowed on the premises.
“Though Selznick tried to use his clout to convince the studio heads to demand an exception for Hattie to attend, MGM not only refused but told him to drop the matter altogether. That was it; his hands were tied, his star performer would not be able to attend her own premiere.”
Biding Her Time
Though all involved celebrated their night on the Atlanta red carpet at the Loews Theater, many were also thinking that Hattie deserved to be there. Shortly after the affair ended, the author of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, sent Hattie a telegram that warmed but also broke her heart. It simply read, “Wish you could have heard the applause.” With the ugliness behind her, the actress bided her time until she could relish in the limelight of her success.
Hattie didn’t have to wait long as the Hollywood premiere was just a week later. On December 28, 1939, the actress walked proudly down the red carpet, holding a program that included a photo of her own face on the cover. To make up for the blatant racism exhibited in Atlanta, Selznick had the programs remade to highlight his star performer.
After winning the Academy Award in 1940 she continued to be cast as the maid for the rest of her life. She famously quipped “I’d rather make $700 a week playing a maid than earn $7 a day being a maid.” Despite the poor quality of her roles Hattie continued to open doors that had previously been closed to African-American performers. In 1947, she starred on the radio in The Beulah Show. In 1951, the show moved to television, and Hattie starred in the first three episodes until she discovered she had cancer and became too ill to continue working.”
Ms. Beavers and Ms. McDaniel, two groundbreaking African American actresses who managed to have Hollywood careers in an age of seen-but-not-heard racism.
They must have competed for the same roles (cook, maid, mammy).
Louise got the more substantial roles, Hattie won the Oscar.
“When she signed to play the role of Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), Hattie was put under personal contract to producer David O. Selznick, alongside the likes of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and British director Alfred Hitchcock, both recent arrivals to Hollywood. Selznick had championed the campaign to win Hattie her Academy Award and was determined to see her play roles more befitting her new status as an Oscar-winner. The producer was soon frustrated at the lack of prestigious opportunities for his newest contract player, however.
Starring vehicles for Black actors among major studio productions at the time were virtually non-existent, and Selznick eventually conceded to allowing Hattie to return to the servant roles that had made her famous. Through a special shared-contract arrangement between Selznick andWarner Bros., Hattie played Bette Davis’ protective housemaid in THE GREAT LIE (1941), and Olivia de Havilland’s loyal (and charmingly superstitious) southern maid Callie in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (right), de Havilland’s eighth and final co-starring vehicle with Errol Flynn. Hattie received co-star billing below the title and ample screen time in both films.”
Miss Scarlett. What are we gonna to do with nothing to feed those sick folks and that child? Scarlett: I don't know, Mammy. I don't know. Mammy: We ain't got nothing but radishes in the garden. Prissy quote: Miss Scarlett, Miss Suellen and Miss Carreen they's fussing to be sponged off. Scarlett: Where are the other servants, Mammy? Mammy: Miss Scarlett, there's only just me and Pork left. The others went off to the war or runned away. Scarlett: I can't take care of that baby and sick folks, too. I's only got two hands. Pork quote: Who's going to milk that cow, Miss Scarlett? We's houseworkers. Scarlett quote: As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill . As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!
PORK: “There ain’t no barn no more, Miss Scarlett. The Yankees done burned it for firewood. They used the house for their headquarters. They camped all around the place.” SCARLETT: “Yankees in Tara?!” PORK: “Yes, ma’am, and they stole most everything they didn’t burn. All the clothes and all the rugs and even Miss Ellen’s rosaries.” SCARLETT: “I’m starving, Pork. Get me something to eat.” MAMMY: “There ain’t nothing to eat, honey. They took it all. And what they didn’t eat they carried off.”
Hattie McDaniel and Clark Gable, aka Mammy and Rhett Butler
The Atlanta premiere of Gone with the Wind was marred by the absence of Hattie McDaniel and other Black cast members, who were banned due to Georgia’s Jim Crow laws.
An angry Clark Gable was on the brink of boycotting, but his friend McDaniel reportedly persuaded him to attend.
“Gable Again Outraged By Segregation!”
“When Clark Gable found out that Hattie McDaniel and the other Black stars of the film would not be allowed to go to Atlanta along with the white members of the cast, he hit the ceiling.
Gable was already good friends with McDaniel prior to making the movie, and he angrily threatened to boycott the premiere unless she was allowed to attend. It was McDaniel herself who talked him into going.
Clark Gable was a big enough star to undo segregation on a Hollywood movie lot, but segregation in the heart of Dixie was too much even for him.”
Gone With the Wind
prequel to tell Mammy’s story
Mammy, the slave devoted to her mistress Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, is to be given her own back story by the author Donald McCaig, in what its publisher said was “a necessary correction” to how the black characters in Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel are portrayed.
Authorized by the Mitchell Estate, the novel is billed as a prequel to Gone With the Wind, and will see McCaig give Mammy both a name – Ruth – and a past. It will be published by Atria in the US in October and will, said the publisher, be “a remarkable story of fortitude, heartbreak, and indomitable will [in which McCaig] reveals a portrait of Mammy that is both nuanced and poignant, at once a proud woman and a captive, and a strict disciplinarian who has never experienced freedom herself”.
In Mitchell’s novel, the character of Mammy – which won actor Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in the film version of the book – is not fleshed out. Portrayed as a loyal and loving part of the O’Hara household, she keeps Scarlett in line in Mitchell’s painstakingly spelled out vernacular. “Ah ain’ gwine stand by an’ have eve’ybody at de pahty sayin’ how you ain’ fotched up right. Ah has tole you an’ tole you da you kin allus tell a lady by dat she eat lak a bird. An’ Ah ain’ aimin’ ter have you go ter Mist’ Wilkes’ an’eat lak a fe’el han’ an’ gobble lak a hawg.”
Peter Borland, editorial director of Atria, told the New York Times that McCaig “felt that Mammy was such a fascinating and crucial character to the book” that “he wanted to flesh out a story of her own”, adding: “What’s really remarkable about what Donald has done is that it’s a book that respects and honors its source material, but it also provides a necessary correction to what is one of the more troubling aspects of the book, which is how the black characters are portrayed.”
A previous novel, The Wind Done Gone, invented a new character – Scarlett’s half-sister and Mammy’s daughter. “I was born May 25, 1945, at half-past seven in the morning into slavery on a cotton farm a day’s ride from Atlanta. My father, Planter, was the master of the place; my mother was the Mammy. My half-sister, Other, was the belle of five counties,” wrote author Alice Randall in the novel, which was not authorized by Mitchell’s estate.
McCaig, a Civil War novelist who also expanded the story of Mitchell’s character Rhett Butler in his novel Rhett Butler’s People, will open his tale on the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue – Haiti today. “Her story began with a miracle,” he writes, telling of how an infant girl survived an attack to fall into the hands of the French émigrés, Henri and Solange Fournier, who take her to Savannah.
“What follows is the sweeping tale of Ruth’s life as shaped by her strong-willed mistress and other larger-than-life personalities she encounters in the South: Jehu Glen, a free black man with whom Ruth falls madly in love; the shabbily genteel family that first hires Ruth as Mammy; Solange’s daughter Ellen and the rough Irishman, Gerald O’Hara, whom Ellen chooses to marry; the Butler family of Charleston and their shocking connection to Mammy Ruth; and finally Scarlett O’Hara – the irrepressible Southern belle Mammy raises from birth,” said Atria. “Despite the cruelties of a world that has decreed her a slave, Mammy endures, a rock in the river of time. She loves with a ferocity that would astonish those around her if they knew it. And she holds tight even to those who have been lost in the ravages of her days.”
McCaig told the New York Times that he wanted to tell the story of Ruth because there are “three major characters in Gone With the Wind, but we only think about two of them.”
“Scarlett and Rhett are familiar, but when it comes to the third, we don’t know where she was born, if she was ever married if she ever had children,” he said. “Indeed, we don’t even know her name.” The New York Times revealed that the first two-thirds of the book would be told in the third person, with the last third in Ruth’s own dialect.
Although McCaig drew praise for Rhett Butler’s People – the Guardian said he wrote about the civil war “with great empathy and historical authority”, adding that “you suspect McCaig isn’t terribly interested in the story of Rhett and Scarlett at all” – the news that a white man would be telling Mammy’s story drew immediate criticism.
“A 73-year-old White writer is automatically deemed capable of rendering a believable story, an epic book nonetheless, about an enslaved Black woman,” responded Ronda Racha Penrice at The Grio .
She continued: “in the end, the problem isn’t whether the compelling stories of the men, women, and children who endured the inhumane horror of being deemed the property of other human beings in the eyes of the law and other people’s twisted sense of morality deserve to be told. Instead, the real problem is that white people are still viewed as the utmost authority on everything their imaginations can cook up.”
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