Hattie McDaniel made motion picture history 75 years ago as the first black actor to win an Academy Award, which she did for her portrayal of Mammy in the 1939 film classic Gone With the Wind.
She was born June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas. Her parents were both former slaves freed following the Civil War. The family moved to Colorado in 1900.
A gifted performer and singer, she found work in a local black minstrel show, and later on a Denver radio program. After perfecting a night club act in Milwaukee and recording some of her songs in the 1920s, McDaniel headed to Hollywood in 1931 and quickly landed parts in motion pictures.
Often cast in the role of maid or household help, McDaniel appeared in films with many well-known stars, including Bela Lugosi, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
She became friends with Clark Gable as they worked together in China Seas (1935) and Saratoga (1935), and Gable recommended McDaniel for her role in Gone With the Wind.
McDaniel appeared in more than 80 films and also returned to radio performing. She died Oct. 26, 1952.
The 39¢ commemorative stamp honoring Hattie McDaniel (Scott 3996) was issued Jan. 25, 2006, in the Black Heritage series. The stamp illustration by Tim O’Brien shows McDaniel in the dress she wore to accept her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1940.