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Hattie McDaniel — Replacing An Iconic Actor’s Long-Lost Academy Award

Publicity photo for Gone with the Wind featuring McDaniel, Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh

At some point in the 1960s, the Oscar that was awarded to Hattie McDaniel for her best supporting role in 1939’s “Gone With The Wind” disappeared from Howard University’s drama department.

Publicity photo for Gone with the Wind featuring McDaniel, Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh
Publicity photo for ‘Gone with the Wind’ featuring Hattie McDaniel, Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences along with the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced this week that the Academy would gift a replacement statue to Howard University’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.

The university, a historically Black university in Washington, D.C., U.S.A. will host a ceremony titled “Hattie’s Come Home” at its Ira Aldridge Theater on October 1.

LIFE AND LEGACY

The ceremony will celebrate the life and legacy of McDaniel, her historic Academy Award win, and reunite her award with Howard University as she originally intended. The event will include opening remarks by actor Phylicia Rashad, dean of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University, plus musical numbers and an excerpt of the play “Boulevard of Bold Dreams” by LaDarrion Williams.

Academy Museum Director and President Jacqueline Stewart and Executive Vice President of Oscars Strategy Teni Melidonian will present the plaque to the university.

“When I was a student in the College of Fine Arts at Howard University, in what was then called the Department of Drama, I would often sit and gaze in wonder at the Academy Award that had been presented to Ms. Hattie McDaniel, which she had gifted to the College of Fine Arts,” Rashad says in a press release. “I am overjoyed that this Academy Award is returning to what is now the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University. This immense piece of history will be back in the College of Fine Arts for our students to draw inspiration from. Ms. Hattie is coming home!”

3.Reproduction of the original plaque of Hattie McDaniels Academy Award for Actress in a Supporting Role for Gone with the Wind (1939). Gift from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to Howard University. ©Academy Museum Foundation, Photo by: Owen Kolasinski
Reproduction of the original plaque of Hattie McDaniel’s Academy Award for Actress in a Supporting Role for Gone with the Wind (1939). Gift from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to Howard University. ©Academy Museum Foundation, Photo by: Owen Kolasinski

A performer on stage, radio and screen, McDaniel appeared in some 300 films throughout her career. In 1940, she made history as the first Black person to be nominated for and to win a competitive Academy Award for her supporting performance as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind.”

Since the awards ceremony was held at the segregated Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel, McDaniel and her guest were seated separately from the film’s other nominees.

Studio publicity photo of Hattie McDaniel (Public Domain)
Studio publicity photo of Hattie McDaniel (Public Domain)

McDaniel’s award was a plaque instead of a statue, as was customary for supporting performance winners from 1936 to 1942. Though its whereabouts today are unknown, her award stands out in Academy history; it would be 51 years before another Black woman — Whoopie Goldberg — would win an acting Oscar.

This immense piece of history will be back in the College of Fine Arts for our students to draw inspiration from.

McDaniel bequeathed her Academy Award to Howard University upon her death in 1952. The award was displayed at the university’s drama department until the late 1960s, when it disappeared.

At the Academy Museum’s Academy Awards History Gallery, her win is recognized in the Oscars Gallery of statuettes, but through a vitrine that stands empty. Her acceptance speech, as recorded for newsreel cameras at the time, goes:

“Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science[s], 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 the awards for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything 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.”

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