Airs on DC50, Sunday, February 19 @ 3PM
Seventy-one years ago it was no surprise when the 1939 classic "Gone with the Wind" won the Best Picture Oscar, and Vivien Leigh took home Best Actress honors as Scarlett O’Hara. Probably the most memorable, and certainly the most historic moment on the evening of February 29,1940 occurred when Hattie McDaniel became the first ever African-American to win an Oscar. She won Best Supporting Actress as Scarlett O’Hara’s beloved "Mammy." There is good reason to believe that she was also the first African American to attend the ceremony as a guest.
WDCW-TV’s locally-produced special, "Hattie’s Lost Legacy" traces McDaniel's storied career, the many challenges she encountered along the way, her Oscar win, and the eventual disappearance of her Academy Award from Howard University in Washington, DC. The special will be broadcast on Saturday, February 19 at 3PM and Sunday, February 27 at 4:30PM.
The daughter of Henry McDaniel, a freed slave who fought in the Civil War, Hattie McDaniel was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1892. As early as 1910, she worked as a band vocalist. In fact, it’s thought that she was actually the first African American woman to sing on the radio (in 1915 with Professor George Morrison Negro Orchestra). Her first screen role was in 1931 in "The Golden West." Throughout the 1930’s , she co-starred, usually as a servant, opposite such screen legends as Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Shirley Temple, and Mae West.
Much has been written about the fierce competition that existed among actresses vying for the Scarlett O'Hara role, with everyone from Paulette Goddard to Lana Turner and even Lucille Ball in contention. The same is also true for the role of Mammy. McDaniel is said to have edged out her competition when she came to audition for the role in full Civil War servant garb. Many remember the pivotal role of Mammy and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) saying "she’s the one person whose respect I'd like to have." After her Oscar win, her screen roles descended in the 1940's. She played on the "Amos & Andy" radio show with Eddie Cantor; and was the title character for two episodes of the TV show "Beulah." She died of breast cancer in 1952 leaving an estate of $10,000 and her Oscar. She left her Oscar to Howard University in Washington, DC - as a beacon of hope and inspiration to this Black Historic College.
"Hattie’s Lost Legacy" examines the conflicting stories as to what actually happened to the Oscar. Was it stolen or misplaced? Was it tossed in the Potomac River by students in the late 1960’s who were angered that the role of a slave received such an honor? Two Howard University graduates from the 1960's, Donal Leace and Geoffrey Newman, vividly remember seeing and even holding the McDaniel’s Academy Award. Howard University, which declined to participate in the WDCW-TV special said they never took possession of the Oscar.
Several film historians, including Tom O'Neil from the Los Angeles Times, feel strongly the Oscar should be replaced – as does McDaniel’s great great niece, Kim Goff-Crews. Despite the many requests from fans, film historians, family members, and even Howard University, a replacement of McDaniel's Oscar seems unlikely at this point. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Executive Director, Bruce Davis, is also interviewed and while Davis notes the significance of this particular award, McDaniel's being the first African American winner, he said replacement Oscars are not offered to the heirs of deceased winners.
"The time is right," says last year's Academy Award winner Mo’Nique regarding the return of McDaniel’s Oscar in "Hattie’s Lost Legacy." Last February, upon winning her Best Supporting Actress honor, McDaniel was the first person Mo’Nique acknowledged in her acceptance speech. "I want to thank Miss Hattie McDaniel for enduring what she did, so I wouldn't have to." Mo'Nique further discusses the inspiration she drew from McDaniel's life and career. And she talks about why she replicated the blue gown and fresh gardenias that McDaniel wore on Oscar night 1940.
"Hattie’s Lost Legacy" is hosted by Robin Hamilton from WDCW-TV's "NewsPlus with Mark Segraves" weekly news program.
"Hattie's Lost Legacy" is part of WDCW-TV's celebration and commemoration of Black History Month. The station is also broadcasting the locally-produced special "The Howard Theatre: A Century in Song" on Sunday, Feb. 27th at 4:30PM. "A Century in Song" explores the 100th anniversary Washington, DC’s historic Howard Theatre which launched the careers of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye and many more musical icons. Last fall, "The Howard Theatre: A Century in Song" was a featured presentation at the Congressional Black Caucus meetings.
Following the initial broadcasts of "Hattie’s Lost Legacy," the program will be featured on DC50tv.com and will include extended length interviews with all of the programs participants.