Monday, June 10, 2024

Happy Birthday, Hattie McDaniel!

Today would have been Hattie McDaniel's 131st birthday. She died back in 1952, but she was born on June 10, 1893. Hattie McDaniel starred in one of my favorite movies, 1939's Gone With the Wind. Although this movie is a favorite of many, it is not without controversy. And, Ms. McDaniel, the daughter of former slaves, found herself in the thick of it.

If you are not familiar with Hattie McDaniel, here are some highlights from Wikipedia:

Hattie McDaniel was an American actress, singer-songwriter, and comedienne. For her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939), she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first African American to win an Oscar

The competition to win the part of Mammy in Gone with the Wind was almost as fierce as that for Scarlett O'Hara. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to film producer David O. Selznick to ask that her own maid, Elizabeth McDuffie, be given the part. McDaniel did not think she would be chosen, because she had earned her reputation as a comic actress. One source claimed that Clark Gable recommended that the role be given to McDaniel; in any case, she went to her audition dressed in an authentic maid's uniform and won the part.

Loew's Grand Theater on Peachtree Street in Atlanta was selected by the studio as the site for the Friday, December 15, 1939, premiere of Gone with the Wind. Studio head David O. Selznick asked that McDaniel be permitted to attend, but MGM advised him not to, because of Georgia's segregation laws. Clark Gable threatened to boycott the Atlanta premiere unless McDaniel were allowed to attend, but McDaniel convinced him to attend anyway.

Most of Atlanta's 300,000 citizens crowded the route of the seven-mile (11 km) motorcade that carried the film's other stars and executives from the airport to the Georgian Terrace Hotel, where they stayed. While Jim Crow laws kept McDaniel from the Atlanta premiere, she did attend the film's Hollywood debut on December 28, 1939. Upon Selznick's insistence, her picture was also featured prominently in the program.

For her performance as the house servant who repeatedly scolds her owner's daughter, Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), and scoffs at Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), McDaniel won the 1939 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the first Black actor to have been nominated and win an Oscar. "I loved Mammy", McDaniel said when speaking to the white press about the character. "I think I understood her because my own grandmother worked on a plantation not unlike Tara". Her role in Gone with the Wind had alarmed some whites in the South; there were complaints that in the film she had been too "familiar" with her white owners.

While many Black people were happy over McDaniel's personal victory, they also viewed it as bittersweet. They believed Gone With the Wind celebrated the slave system and condemned the forces that destroyed it. For them, the unique accolade McDaniel had won suggested that only those who did not protest Hollywood's systemic use of racial stereotypes could find work and success there.

Ms. McDaniel received criticism from the black community during her lifetime for playing maids, but she said she 'd rather play a maid for $700 a week, than be one for $7 a week.  

The 12th Academy Awards took place at Coconut Grove Restaurant of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was preceded by a banquet in the same room. 

McDaniel received a plaque-style Oscar, approximately 5.5 in (14 cm) by 6 in (15 cm), the type awarded to all Best Supporting Actors and Actresses at that time. She and her escort were required to sit at a segregated table for two at the far wall of the room; her white agent, William Meiklejohn, sat at the same table. The hotel had a strict no-Blacks policy but allowed McDaniel in as a favor. The discrimination continued after the award ceremony as well; her white co-stars went to a "no-Blacks" club, where McDaniel was also denied entry.

For more information on the life of Hattie McDaniel, click here.

Despite the various controversies, Ms. McDaniel's outstanding performance as Mammy will never be forgotten!

Have you ever seen Gone With the Wind? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 3, 2024

Love Against the Odds

A few years ago, my friend Lisa recommended three movies that she knew I'd enjoy, all from different time periods. Two dealt with interracial love (one of my favorite topics), while the third was a May/December romance. 

Here's a brief summary of each film from IMDb:

All That Heaven Allows (1955): An upper-class widow falls in love with a much younger, down-to-earth nurseryman, much to the disapproval of her children and criticism of her country club peers.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)A lonely widow meets a much younger Arab worker in a bar during a rainstorm. They fall in love, to their own surprise-and to the outright shock of their families, colleagues, and drinking buddies.

Far From Heaven (2002): In 1950s Connecticut, a housewife faces a marital crisis and mounting racial tensions in the outside world.

I don't claim to be a movie reviewer, but I'll share my thoughts regarding each film. My favorite was the sappy melodrama All That Heaven Allows. Why? Because it had a happy ending!


All That Heaven Allows
 focused on socio-economic status and an older woman younger man relationship. I loved how the main character Carrie's detached/clinical social worker daughter couldn't handle the situation. Her WASP son wasn't any better. Ron, the love interest was a novelty to Carrie at first (a nice set of muscles, as her son said), and she was willing to let him go to keep her children's approval (and maybe that precious social status, too). But love conquered that in the end and they became equals who'd live a non-snobbish lifestyle. The doctor character was a voice of reason and support for Carrie, so that was refreshing.

Ali:Fear Eats the Soul was fascinating. It was interesting to see how the issue racism and ethnicity was addressed in Europe at that time. Also, the relationship of a much, much older (and not very attractive) woman and a younger man was intriguing. When the main character Emmi falls in love with Ali, she loses everything. It's even mentioned that she's not really even German because she has a Polish last name. Her children, neighbors, and workmates offer her no support and are quite cruel. Though this is difficult for Emmi, Ali is too important to her and she won't end their relationship. 

After they return from a long vacation, Emmi is accepted back by her community because of what she can (monetarily) offer. She even participates in alienating a new co-worker from Yugoslavia. With her place restored, she wants to change Ali, perhaps assimilate him. At this point, he seems like more of a possession (and a nice set of muscles), and not an equal. He eventually becomes an equal in their relationship, but that doesn't happen until after she drives him into another woman's arms. Though I was happy Emmi and Ali reunited, I was saddened when she told him he had her permission to stray. The stomach ulcer told Ali's story. The discrimination and rejection he faced ate away at his soul. The landlord's son was supportive of their relationship early on, so that was nice to see.

Far From Heaven
 (inspired by the other two movies mentioned above) was a really hard hitting film! No age issue, just Yankee racism. NO happy ending here or even a supportive character, aside from perhaps the maid. This movie portrayed the ultimate relationship (black man/white woman) where no lines could be crossed in 1950s America! 

Frank, the gay husband, is a fascinating angle. And when he hears talk of his wife, Cathy, being seen with a black man, he blows quite the gasket! He'd worked so hard at establishing the perfect life for his family (and hiding his gay affairs) and she was destined to destroy all he'd accomplished. Cathy has to lie about her excursion with Raymond, her black gardener. And though nothing transpires between them, when she does open up to her best friend, Eleanor, about her feelings of just thinking about him, Eleanor drops her as a friend. 

Raymond seems to be a secret desire, one left hidden and best not discussed. He is a fantasy, something Cathy longs for, but knows she can never have. And knowing he feels the same and desires her makes it all the more heart-wrenching, especially after watching her live with an alcoholic husband who doesn't really love or desire her. The ending is sad, but realistic.  

Have you seen any of these movies? If so, do you have any thoughts to share? Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 

Monday, May 27, 2024

Happy Memorial Day!




I'm taking a day off from blogging today. Enjoy the holiday and remember to honor those who have served our country!

Monday, May 20, 2024

Janet Leigh: Beautiful Discovery

Beautiful actress Janet leigh starred in three of the most iconic motion pictures of all time: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958).

That's quite a resume! And with no acting experience, Janet Leigh's story is like a fairy tale. She was a pretty face that was discovered. Here's her story from Wikipedia:

In February 1946, actress Norma Shearer was vacationing at Sugar Bowl, a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains where Leigh's parents were working at the time. In the resort lobby, Shearer noticed a photograph of Leigh taken by her father over the Christmas holiday, which he had printed and placed in a photo album available for guests to browse.

Upon returning to Los Angeles, Shearer showed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) talent agent Lew Wasserman the photograph of the then-eighteen-year-old Leigh (Shearer's late husband Irving Thalberg had been head of production at MGM). She would later recall that "that smile made it the most fascinating face I had seen in years. I felt I had to show that face to somebody at the studio." 

Through her association with MGM, Shearer was able to facilitate screen tests for Leigh with Selena Royle, after which Wasserman negotiated a contract for her, despite her having no acting experience. Leigh dropped out of college that year, and was soon placed under the tutelage of drama coach Lillian Burns.

And the rest is history! To read more about Janet Leigh, click here. My favorite Janet Leigh movie is Touch of Evil. Do you have a favorite hanet Leigh movie? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, May 13, 2024

Merle Oberon's Secret

One of my favorite movies is the 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights, starring the extraordinarily beautiful Merle Oberon, a talented actress during the 1930s and '40s.

Yesterday was Mother's Day and I enjoyed spending time with my mother, as I'm sure most of us did who are still fortunate enough to have our mothers. That said, I find it sad the way Miss Oberon treated her own mother--her dark skinned mother--by passing her off as a servant. Throughout her lifetime, Merle Oberon kept her ethnic origin a secret.

 About.com says "Merle Oberon earned an Oscar nod for her acting in 1935’s “The Dark Angel” and more recognition for playing Cathy in 1939’s Wuthering Heights. But off screen, Oberon feared that her secrets would be exposed. She wasn’t solely white nor was she born in Tasmania like actor Errol Flynn, as she told people. Actually, she was born in India to an Indian mother and an Anglo father. Rather than disown her mother, though, Oberon passed her off as a servant. When the actress visited Tasmania later in life, the press hounded her for details about her upbringing, forcing her to admit that she wasn't born there. Still, Oberon did not confess to being Indian."

For a more in depth look into Merle Oberon's life and deceit regarding her origins, check out this article about the 2002 documentary "The Trouble with Merle".

Have you seen any of Merle Oberon's movies?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!