Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SUTS 2013: Hattie McDaniel

The TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon is a month-long event corresponding with the Turner Classic Movies annual presentation, in which each day in August is devoted to the films of a different classic film star. The blogathon is hosted by Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the links at either site.

Welcome back to my continuing coverage of the 12th annual Academy Awards. We're now down to two weeks until the magic night - February 29 at the Ambassador Hotel's beautiful Coconut Grove, and at this point, Gone With the Wind continues to look like the frontrunner with its thirteen Oscar nominations. A lot could change, though. Wuthering Heights remains a strong contender. It has the New York Film Critics Circle honors, and like Wind, is on the National Board of Review top ten. It also has, like Wind, one of the five coveted Best Director nominations, for William Wyler, and in a field of ten best Picture nominations, that counts for a great deal. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, by the ever-popular Frank Capra, can't be counted out either; it's also on the NBR top ten, and Capra too, has a Best Director nomination. We'll get into a deeper discussion of the Best Picture race later on in this series.

Today, however, we'll wrap up our look at the acting nominations with the Best Supporting Actress field, and once again, Gone With the Wind is a dominant factor, with not one, but two contenders in the following five-woman group:

- Edna May Oliver, Drums Along the Mohawk. One of two John Ford Westerns in contention for this year's Oscars, along with Best Pic nominee Stagecoach, Oliver steals the show as Mrs. McKlennar, the widow who puts up Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert after they lose their home to a Mohawk raid. A memorable role, but the lack of widespread support for the film as a whole is liable to hurt.

- Maria Ouspenskaya, Love Affair. In Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer's tender love story, Ouspenskaya plays Boyer's grandmother. This is the second nom for the 63-year-old Russian, only two years after her devastating breakthrough role in Dodsworth. A win here would make for a wonderfully sentimental story, but I think the competition is tougher.

- Geraldine Fitzgerald, Wuthering Heights. In this adaptation of the Emily Bronte literary classic, Fitzgerald plays Isabella, Heathcliff's consolation prize after his lifelong love Cathy spurns him. Some of my fellow movie columnists are predicting Fitzgerald to win here. Between this and her role in another Best Pic nominee, Dark Victory, she has had an outstanding year and the Academy may want to reward that. If the Wind duo splits the vote, which is quite possible, Fitzgerald could very easily slip in and take the crown. Being young and beautiful certainly doesn't hurt her cause, either. Still, I think she'll have other chances.

Which brings us to the one-two Gone With the Wind punch, and in a move that will no doubt shock all you readers out there, I am not going with the consensus favorite to win, Olivia DeHavilland. I've given this a great deal of thought. Her performance as Melanie provides the film its living heart, and though it may be overshadowed at times amidst the pyrotechnics of Rhett and Scarlett's fiery relationship, it remains a vital element. The critics realize it, as do the fans. Plus, she's a beloved actress; she and Errol Flynn are one of Hollywood's great screen duos. Is it her time? Is her win viewed as an inevitability? Maybe. I suspect she probably will win, and I'll look like a total dummy for not picking her. I'm prepared to have egg on my face, though...

... because I'm here to tell you that I'm predicting Hattie McDaniel to win. Now, understand - I don't believe for a minute that the Academy is deliberately out to make history. Being the first Negro actor to receive an Oscar nomination is an outstanding achievement, and I certainly hope there will be more from other Negro stars to follow. Between such names as Paul Robeson, Louise Beavers, Fredi Washington and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, among others, the talent is there, and it is my belief that it will get recognized, sooner or later.

And it isn't even any one particular scene that tips the balance in her favor, although her moment with Melanie after [SPOILER]'s death is certainly an emotional one. It's more her overall presence within the film that does it for me. If Melanie is the heart of Wind, then Mammy is its conscience - the way she can keep her "spider," Scarlett, in line with a simple look. It's a showier role than Melanie's, and I believe the Academy will respond to it more as a result.

Indeed, the 44-year-old McDaniel does what she does best in Wind. Those of you who remember her as Hi-Hat Hattie on KNX's "The Optimistic Do-Nut Hour" will attest to her ability to hold her own against white performers, long before she moved from behind the microphone and in front of the camera. She has appeared opposite some of Hollywood's best, from Marlene Dietrich to Mae West, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn and Shirley Temple - in subservient roles, yes, but always taking the wind out of the sails of the pompous upper-class types her characters work for and bringing them back down to earth.

As for her Wind role, perhaps you've read the story of how McDaniel met uber-producer David O. Selznick in full costume as Mammy, which clinched the role for her. Selznick ordered script changes specifically to reflect McDaniel's style. As reported here back in December, Clark Gable was prepared to boycott the Atlanta premiere unless McDaniel would be allowed to attend. He only changed his mind at McDaniel's urging.

When McDaniel attends the awards ceremony, she will be the only Negro there as a guest. As a result, she will probably be seated somewhere in the back. Still, don't forget about her; if there's enough support for her within the actors' branch - and given the wide range of stars McDaniel has worked with, I think there could be - she may be the one who walks home with the gold in this category.

Tomorrow, we'll examine the contenders in the brand new category of Visual Effects. Will The Wizard of Oz, with its cyclones, witchcraft and flying monkeys take the top spot? Or can Wind capture the crown here as well? Join me as we size up the nominees!

Many thanks to Brandie (a fine girl) for her assistance.

Catherine Deneuve


  1. In 1937 Bing Crosby sent David O. Selznick a note to suggest Hattie McDaniel for the role of Mammy in "Gone With the Wind", to which Selznick replied, "Dear Bing, Thanks for the suggestion. And also for not wanting to play Scarlett."

    Source: Bing Crosby A Pocketful of Dreams The Early Years 1903-1940 by Gary Giddins.

  2. That's one I did not know. Thanks.

  3. Rich,

    I really enjoyed this unique look at McDaniel's nomination, and eventual win. McDaniel was an amazing talent and an incredible woman. I adore her.

    Thank you again for participating in the blogathon. I really appreciate it!


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