Sunday, November 10, 2013

HATTIE McDANIEL: Pioneer Character

"We all respect sincerity in our friends and acquaintances, but Hollywood is willing to pay for it."             
                                                 ... Hattie McDaniel 
Hattie McDaniel was a character actor whose presence on the silver screen is one we shall never forget. In addition to her memorable performances on screen, her impact beyond the celluloid made this actress into a cinematic legend and a true pioneer in the African-American community.
Born on June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas, she was one of 13 children and the daughter of former slaves. Her parents introduced her to music and entertainment early on- her father was a Baptist preacher yet also sang and played the banjo in minstrel shows and her mother was a gospel singer. The family moved to Denver in 1901. By high school, Hattie's talents were already starting to shine in school and church; thus began her early career as a singer and a dancer. She often joined her father's minstrel act and toured with other vaudevillian troupes. In 1925, she became one of the first African-American women of radio- and the very first black female voice to sing on the radio.

In the early 30's when she moved to L.A., she was able to garner small roles on the radio through her brother, Sam and sister Etta (already working in radio/film)- which turned into bit roles as extras in films. In order to get by, she took on odd jobs in domestic work while pursuing radio and film work. But in 1934, she landed her first big break on-screen role as a maid in John Ford's JUDGE PRIEST.

From there, her roles came more frequent with a more assertive personality with each subsequent role... but always as the maid or "mammy" character. She appeared in close to a hundred roles as an actress and usually in that similar character as the maid/mammy who is loyal to her employer yet comfortable enough to express what's on her mind, even in defiance with stern mannerisms. Her outfits would often reflect the racial stereotype as the "mammy." McDaniel's performances stood out, despite as racially stereotypical and stagnant as they may be. It was her quality of her craft that made these roles memorable. These stereotypical characters led to her crowning achievement and most recognizable role, as "Mammy" in Victor Fleming's GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). Her acceptance speech in winning the Academy award for Best Supporting Actress; the very first Oscar ever won by an African-American:

"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 me for one of their 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."

The road to earn this coveted award from the Academy, along with the rest of the gains in her life, was not an easy one traveled. Her accomplishments often came at a great price and were surrounded by controversy. As shocking as it may be to comprehend in modern society, none of the black actors were allowed to attend the premiere screening of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) which took place in segregated Atlanta, GA. In fact, For the premiere night's cotillion ball, Martin Luther King Sr. was invited to attend as a influential minister but was being encouraged to boycott the premiere's events by fellow civil rights leaders. MLK Sr. attended anyway, along with his soon-to-be high-profile son.

During World War II, McDaniel supported American war efforts by entertaining the troops and promoting war bonds all while continuing to play these same roles. But soon the frequency of offers slowed down dramatically. Post WWII, the progress of civil rights movement had little tolerance for black actors perpetuating demeaning racial stereotypes. McDaniel, as a major symbol of that role countless times over was openly scorned by the NAACP. She disagreed. She defended herself stating that she found success; and in her own way made changes for future generations of African-Americans in Hollywood. She was also known for offering black actors to stay at her home if they couldn't find lodging while residing in LA to help build their careers. And as she famously said, "I'd rather play a maid than be one...Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn't, I'd be making $7 a week being one."

As Hollywood became more interested in a new generation of African American actors like Lena Horne and Sidney Poitier that better reflected a transition into an era of civil rights, movie roles were no longer being offered to Hattie McDaniel. She chose to return to radio instead. "The Belulah Show" was a popular starring role for her. She played a maid but with NAACP approval this time, from 1947 to 1951. The success of this show resulted in a tv version but McDaniel only played this role once on the small screen because she suffered a heart attack. Although she did recover, she soon discovered she had terminal breast cancer. She died on October 26, 1952.
While another 'first' for McDaniel was to be the first African-American to be buried at Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, it was actually her wish to be buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. A more than reasonable request by such an Oscar-winning pioneer in Hollywood; but she was denied due to racism AGAIN. Nearly 50 years later, a monument was finally placed in her honor at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Carved in granite, the perfect response to her Oscar acceptance speech and loving tribute are forever immortalized... "you are a credit to your craft, to your race and to your family."  Posthumously, she was also awarded 2 stars on Hollywood's Walk-Of-Fame: one for radio and one for film.

When I think of Hattie McDaniel, my earliest memory of being introduced to her was via the "Tom and Jerry" cartoons with her recurrent "mammy" role illustrated in animated form; often knee-down view only as she would holler "Thomas!" in her loud, scolding way and frequently with broom in hand. Yes, that was Hattie McDaniel too. As I grew older, I was surprised how this same person could play this similar character in SO many different films. As I watch classic films as an adult, the 'black-face' skits are INCREDIBLY uncomfortable and alarming to watch. [How ON EARTH did anyone think this was not insulting?!] But as stereotypically negative as the 'mammy' and other servile roles were for any and all African Americans to portray, it's somehow different when watching Hattie. Despite the demeaning roles and enormous challenges forced upon her, she had such integrity in her skilled performances that always shone through. She was memorable.

History proves that changing intolerance takes hard-work, time and persistence. Sadly, it's often not a quick fix. Hattie McDaniel proved that she was a trailblazer for her time. A woman of many 'firsts.' It takes a true character to be such a pioneer!      

-This post was written as part of the FABULOUS and FUN 'WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon' as hosted by Aurora of ONCE UPON A SCREEN, Paula of PAULA'S CINEMA CLUB and lil' ole me... Kellee of OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED. Be sure to catch up on all the blogger entries for their talented write-ups!
                                                  What A Character! Blogathon 2013


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Day 1: WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon 2013 is HERE!

Hello classic film fans!
 Today we kick-off the 2nd annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon. Created by the classic-film-jonesing, blogging trio of  Aurora @citizenscreen of Once Upon A Screen, Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula's Cinema Club and myself, Kellee @Irishjayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled and inspired by Turner Classic Movie channel, we celebrate our favorite scene-stealing, quirky character actors. Time and time again, we find ourselves looking forward to these supporting characters with enthusiastic anticipation of a familiar old friend. Often playing roles like the butler, a maid, the hotel manager or the ever-loyal best friend, we honor you!  

Without further ado, here are today's lineup of talented bloggers and their character actor picks for WHAT A CHARACTER! 
Gregory (aka @GJMaupin) of I HUMBLY SUGGEST assesses the 'affably pinch-mouthed yet delightfully disapproving personae' of EDWARD EVERETT HORTON...

"Proud, gentle, kindly and altogether charming, she was indeed the ideal symbol of British dignity..." is the apt description of DAME MAY WHITTY, according the lovely Constance of SILVER SCENES BLOG... 

Paula (aka @Paula_Guthat, #TCMparty co-founder and fellow WAC! Blogathon co-host) of PAULA'S CINEMA CLUB writes upon FRANK McHUGH as the face you know and "expert at sheepish expressions, jittery laughs, and screwball action..."

Lovely Jenni of PORTRAITS BY JENNI describes the funny ERIC BLORE as some who "usually portrayed kind yet fussy butlers who had a way with a smarmy, sarcastic answer that sailed over the heads of the rude people asking him questions..."

Our pal Ruth of SILVER SCREENINGS (aka @925screenings) tackles ERNEST BORGNINE and explores his performance in MARTY... "his unfeigned performance makes us believe we can overcome any obstacle" in WE [heart] ERNEST BORGNINE...

WAC! friend and supporter Annmarie (aka @ClassicMovieHub) of CLASSIC MOVIE HUB BLOG scribes on ROSCOE KARNS as "always delivering his special brand of sarcastic quip with machine-gun like speed."

Fun for all ages, the FAMILY FRIENDLY REVIEWS reviews the many performances of charmingly familiar THELMA RITTER

Rich of WIDE SCREEN WORLD (aka @ratzo318) offers a personal perspective on The Circus Kid: Veteran Funnyman JOE E BROWN ...

Margaret (aka @MargaretPerryKH) of THE GREAT KATHERINE HEPBURN blog gives a breakdown of SARA HADEN - a recognizable character actor that as Margaret astutely observes, "sometimes it's those on the sidelines who are best able to describe the exciting goings on around them." See more at: 

Jim (aka @DraconicVerses) of DRACONIC VERSES offers up his insights on THE face of Toho Effects films who was 'sometimes a hero, sometimes a villain who flexed his dark side occasionally'... KENJI SAHARA- What A Character!

A PERSON IN THE DARK blog asserts that "all movies are made better by Tony Randall's participation." I'm hard-pressed to disagree! Read her take on the unforgettable character, TONY RANDALL ...

On SHADOWS & SATIN, Karen (aka @TheDarkPages) presents her findings on the versatile actor who went from film noir to being blacklisted then bouncing back again... JEFF COREY ... 

Maegan (aka @MaesMusings) writes a special guest post on ONCE UPON A SCREEN with "A Character Worth Celebrating" as she provides her thoughts on the character actor who was "wonderfully amusing with little gestures"... JESSIE ROYCE LANDIS

Please enjoy reading all of these wonderfully talented and entertaining bloggers' submissions. Whenever possible, we encourage you to leave commentary too. Every writer appreciates the positive feedback! I will continue to add more bloggers' entries as they trickle in. And don't forget to continue reading ALL the amazing blogs over the next 2 days as our WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon progresses at ONCE UPON A SCREEN and PAULA'S CINEMA CLUB.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon Schedule

With as much excitement as Steve Martin in THE JERK (1979) with the arrival of new phone books, I enthusiastically offer you the 2013 WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon schedule!! Back by popular demand, the zany classic-film-loving and blogging trio of Aurora (aka @citizenscreen) of Once Upon A Screen, Paula (aka @Paula_Guthat) of Paula's Cinema Club and Kellee (aka @IrishJayhawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled (moi!) bring you the 2013 installment of WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.

Inspired by the phrase from our beloved home of the classics, Turner Classic Movies (TCM). WHAT A CHARACTER! the Blogathon proved to be a tremendous hit from bloggers and readers alike from across the blogosphere and a myriad of social media channels in 2012. We're thrilled and confident to repeat those positive results this year! After all, who doesn't ADORE those quirky character actors?! On behalf of Aurora, Paula and me here’s the planned schedule for the WHAT A CHARACTER! blogathon 2013:

Saturday, November 9 – hosted by Kellee:

Bruce Dern – Kerry on Paula’s Cinema Club
Edward Arnold - The Girl with the White Parasol
Eric Blore - Portraits by Jenni
Ernest Borgnine in Marty - Silver Screenings
Frank McHugh - Paula’s Cinema Club
Jesse Royce Landis – Maegan on Once Upon a Screen
Jessie Ralph - The 5 AM Show
Joe E. Brown - Wide Screen World
Kenji Sahara - The Draconic Verses
Dame May Whitty - Silver Scenes
Nat Pendleton - Comet Over Hollywood
Roscoe Karns - Classic Movie Hub
Sara Haden - The Great Katharine Hepburn
Thelma Ritter - Family Friendly Reviews
Tony Randall – A Person in the Dark
Sunday, November 10 – hosted by Aurora:
Dick Miller - Cinematic Catharsis
Elisha Cook, Jr. - Sales on Film
Gail Patrick - Picture Spoilers
Hank Worden – Critica Retro
Hugh Herbert - Immortal Ephemera
Jane Darwell – Pam on Once Upon a Screen
Sterling Holloway - Sittin’ On a Backyard Fence
Irving Bacon - Speakeasy
Joe Sawyer - The Bogie Film Blog
Lionel Jeffries - Silver Scenes
Martin Balsam - You Gotta Get a Critic
Pert Kelton - The Skeins
Peter Lorre - TV’s Fault
Sheldon Leonard - A Shroud of Thoughts
Stanley Tucci - Paula’s Cinema Club
Tully Marshall - Movies, Silently
Walter Connolly - Carole & Co.

Monday, November 11 – hosted by Paula:

Agnes Moorehead - Movie Star Makeover
Edna May Oliver - The “semi” Daily Maine
Eugene Pallette - Paula’s Cinema Club
Florence Bates - Christy’s Inkwells
Harry Davenport - Once Upon a Screen
Hattie McDaniel - Outspoken & Freckled
Jeanette Nolan - The Last Drive-In
John Hoyt - The Skeins
Joyce Grenfell - Caftan Woman
Mary MacLaren - I Love Terrible Movies
Regis Toomey - She Blogged by Night
Sam Levene - Tales of the Easily Distracted
Thomas Mitchell - Joel’s Classic Film Passion
Timothy Carey - Furious Cinema
Una Merkel - Hepburnia

We will edit the above schedule as any updates come through. There's only a wee bit of time left to sign up if you'd like to join the fun. Just contact any of us to do so. Otherwise, rest those eyeballs now because there's TONS of reading this weekend to enjoy!

                                   wac gold