Posts Tagged ‘Hattie McDaniel’

Olivia de Havilland was the most charming ingenue, as they were called in the 1930s.  She debuted as Hermia in Max Reinhardt’s film A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It was 1935, the heydey of the film studios, and  the beginning of a long, and prolific career at Warner Brothers Studios.

Hattie McDaniel arrived in Hollywood in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929 and was never considered an ingenue.  The daughter of former slaves, most often she played a maid, but she was a talented performer and composer.

The paths of these two women crossed when both were cast in coveted roles in Gone With The Wind.

OK, well actually Olivia’s role, Melanie, was not that coveted – being in the movie was – but most white actresses of note at the time wanted to play Scarlett (including Olivia’s sister, Joan Fontaine).  Everyone who was anyone auditioned.  Olivia never wanted to play anyone but Melanie, a sympathetic yet colorless character compared to Scarlett.

The role Hattie netted, that of Mammy, was coveted enough for none other than Eleanor Roosevelt to have sent a letter of recommendation to producer David. O. Selznick for a friend, but Hattie got the part.  Mammy, beside Scarlett’s wild impulsive nature was the voice of reason.

Olivia’s skills transformed Melanie into a fierce mainstay for Scarlett in the movie despite Scarlett’s ambivalence at the surface. Scarlett’s other anchor was Mammy, her nurse from birth and her never silent conscience. Together they served as Scarlett’s support system.

Both received Oscar nominations as Best Supporting Actress in 1939 for their performances in the film.  Hattie McDaniel won.  She was the first Black actor to win an Academy Award.

Olivia made her own history later when she battled the studio system to throw off he shackles of studio contract restraints.  California Labor Code Section 2855, is still known today as the De Havilland Law.  She went on to win two Best Actress Oscars.

Hattie McDaniel died of breast cancer on October 26, 1952.  Olivia de Havilland resides in Paris and will be 100 years old on July 1, 2016.

Olivia de Havilland receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Bush, 2008

Helen Mirren, who should require no introduction, has said that women’s roles in movies will follow women’s roles in society. Hattie McDaniel has been the target of some undeserved criticism in the past for the roles she accepted to play.  She was an actor trying to make a living and accepted the best that was there at the time.

Both of these women made big marks on the film industry which  reflects and influences real life. Let’s honor them both for their contributions.

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