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The Curious Case Of Hattie McDaniels’ Missing Oscar

The Curious Case Of Hattie McDaniels’ Missing Oscar

In 1925, Hattie McDaniel, became one of the first African American women on the radio. In 1934, she landed her screen acting break in “Judge Priest.” In 1940, she became the first African American to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind.” In 1947, she starred on CBS radio’s “The Beulah Show.” She died on October 26, 1952, in Los Angeles, California.

A film based on her life has long been in the air, with Mo’Nique revealing in 2010 that she owns the rights to McDaniel’s life story, and she planned to star in the biopic. At the time, she said she wanted Lee Daniels to direct it. However, as of today, it doesn’t look like much progress has been made since the initial announcement 6 years ago – at least, nothing that’s been announced.

In late 2014, almost 80 years after the publication of Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel “Gone With The Wind,” it was announced that the character we all know as Mammy, as played by McDaniel in the film adaptation, would finally be getting her own back story – although in book form… at least for now.

Simon & Schuster imprint Atria, later that year, published “Ruth’s Journey: The Story of Mammy from Gone with the Wind,” a fictional telling of the life of one of the original novel’s central characters – Mammy, who otherwise remains nameless. The book hit bookstores (off- and online) on October 14.
Donald McCaig, the award-winning author of the Civil War-set “Jacob’s Ladder,” and who was also chosen by the Margaret Mitchell estate to write “Rhett Butler’s People,” the authorized sequel to “Gone With the Wind,” is the author of “Ruth’s Journey.”
This prequel, which was also authorized by Mitchell’s estate, tracks Scarlett O’Hara’s no-nonsense maid’s life from her birthplace – the French colony of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti – to Savannah, GA. in the early 19th century. 

“Mammy is one of the truly powerful figures in the book and movie and, oddly enough, one of the figures nobody tends to think much about,” said McCaig in a press statement. “When people say what is Gone With the Wind about, they say it’s a love story between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. But Mammy is almost a third party.”

He added: “I was interested in how an African American slave could play such a tremendously important part in a well-to-do white family. I wondered where she came from, had she ever been in love, had she had a child.”

The first two-thirds of “Ruth’s Journey” are written in the 3rd person, and the last third in Ruth’s own tongue, which author McCaig says “was tremendously risky. But I think it’s the best part of the book.”

Of course, with McCaig being a 70-something-year-old white man, his quest to “give Mammy a voice” and tell her story, has been, and will continue to be met with concern and criticism for what should be obvious reasons. 

A question that immediately came to mind when the book was announced, was whether a film adaptation would also follow – especially as movies set during the particular era in which the novel takes place, are seemingly in favor right now.

An announcement of one certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

The new 416-page novel tackles, head on, criticisms Margaret Mitchell faced over her novel, including romanticizing antebellum life, as well as the one-dimensional depictions of black characters in her original novel, starting, of course, with Mammy, who was immortalized on film in 1939 by Hattie McDaniel, in a performance that saw her become the first black actor/actress to win an Academy Award – a trophy that would make its own way into the history books as one of a handful of Oscar statuettes that have either gone missing or were stolen.

Fifty-Five disappeared from a Los Angeles loading dock just days before the ceremony in 2000. All but two were recovered.

In 1938, an unidentified man jumped onstage to accept an award on behalf of Best Supporting Actress winner Alice Brady, who was too ill to attend. The man was never seen again — and neither was Brady’s award.

In 2002, UPS lost Whoopi Goldberg’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar when it was sent out for cleaning. It was later found in a trash can.

And then there’s the case of Hattie McDaniel, and her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Mammy in “Gone With the Wind” – an award that has been missing for decades! Before her death, the actress gave her Oscar to Howard University for safe-keeping, where it was on display for some time, and would suddenly go missing in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how it disappeared, but there have been are rumors throughout the years.

In the audio report below, NPR investigates… “The Curious Case Of Hattie McDaniels’ Missing Oscar,” with Oscar night 2016 upon us…

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