Hattie McDaniel was born in Wichita, Kansas, on June 1oth, 1896. Her parents were former slaves, and she was the youngest of 13 children.
Hattie dropped out of highschool to enter showbusiness, joining her brothers Otis and Sam in her father's show, The Henry McDaniel Minstrel. In 1910 she won a gold medal for reciting a poem, in a contest in which she was the only black peformer. In 1920, after the death of her brother Otis, she joined Professor George Morrison's Melony Hounds, becoming the first black woman to sing on the radio.
While working as a washroom attendant at Club Madrid in Milwaukee she was overheard singing and, at the request of patrons, soon became a regular performer on the stage there.
She moved to Los Angeles with her brother Sam and sisters Etta and Orlena in 1931 and, with the help of her brother, once again gained employment in radio. She starred as Hi-Hat-Hattie, an outspoken housemaid on the program The Optimistic Do-Nut Hour. Her salary from the show was so low that Hattie had to work as a maid in real life.
Hattie made her big-screen debut in 1932's The Golden West, in the roll of a maid. She followed up with I'm No Angel, starring Mae West, as (you guessed it) a maid. She continued to star in small rolls until the mid-1930s. When she was criticized by the black community for continually taking the roll of a maid, she replied "I'd rather play a maid than be one"
In 1939 Hattie starred as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. She was barred from attending the premier of the film in Atlanta, Georgia, because of segregationist laws (her co-star and good friend Clark Gable refused to attend without her, until she persuaded him to go). She won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her work in the film, becoming the first black person to win an Oscar.
Hattie continued to act in movies, still quite often as a maid, until her final film Family Honeymoon in 1949. She appeared on radio and televison programs until she became to ill to do so.
Hattie died of cancer on October 25th, 1952. Unfortunately, prejudice followed her even after death. Hollywood cemetery, where she wished to be buried, did not accept the burial of blacks at that time. Her family instead had her interred in historic Angelus Rosedale Cemetery. The current owners of Hollywood Cemetery offered to have her remains moved in 1999, but her family declined. The owners erected a cenotaph in her honour instead.
Hattie was married 4 times. Her will left exactly $1 to her ex-husband Larry Williams.
In February 2006, Hattie was featured on a United States postage stamp, wearing the dress in which she recieved her Oscar.She two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for her work in radio and one for her work in movies.
"Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting for one of the awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you." - Hattie McDaniel's Oscar Acceptance Speach