Before Hattie McDaniel was cast in her history making role as "Mammy" in "Gone With The Wind" (1939), McDaniel had made history once before. In her career as a singer-songwriter, McDaniel was the first African-American woman to sing on the radio. But who could have known that she would make history twice in her lifetime?
In "Gone With The Wind" (1939), McDaniels plays "Mammy," the strong, assertive servant to the O'Hara's who personally looks after Scarlett before, during and after the American Civil War. She makes no excuses about putting Scarlett in her place when she is out of line and finds a special place in Rhett's heart. One of the clinching moments of McDaniels' performance is the tear-jerking, heart-wrenching monologue she delivers to Melanie (Olivia De Havilland) as she escorts Melanie to Rhett Butler on the eve of Bonnie's funeral.
When McDaniels won the Academy Award, she had won over her fellow "Gone With The Wind" co-star Olivia De Havilland; Geraldine Fitzgerald for "Wuthering Heights" (1939); Edna May Oliver for "Drums Along The Mohawk" (1939) and Marie Ouspenskaya for "Love Affair" (1939). The night she won "Best Supporting Actress" McDaniels made history as the first African American to be nominate and win the Oscar.
Although McDaniels' actual speech had to be altered for newsreels, it can still be viewed on the internet where McDaniels is eloquently dressed with white gardenias for her accessory.
In her post-Oscar career, McDaniels continued to play housekeeper/maid roles. When the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) criticized McDaniels for her decisions, she responded with, "I would rather play a maid and make $700 a week than be a maid and make $7."
There have been 60 African American actors/actresses nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; only 12 have won the coveted award known as the Oscar. All of them have been recognized for their talent and skills as performers because of Hattie McDaniel.
Most recently, when actress/comedienne Mo'Nique won for her supporting role in "Precious" (2010), she wore a white gardenia which was given to her by the MacDaniels family mere hours before the ceremony.