The name Mildred Washington isn't remembered because she appeared in less than 15 films in only small parts. But her stage presence, finesse, beauty and vivacious personality weren't small. Mildred Washington was a popular Black actress and dancer in the 1920s and 1930s. She began on the stage appearing in musicals for many years and later conquered California nightclubs and theaters becoming a full-fledged entertainer who was called the sensation of the West.
She was headliner and dance director for many years at the legendary Sebastian's Cotton Club. Mildred was a skilled dancer who knew how to wow a crowd by amazing them with her dancing ability and lively stage presence. On the side, she appeared in Hollywood films because it was her dream to be in movies.
In Hollywood, Mildred played the role of maid in pre-code era films. This meant she wasn't forced to be demeaned or stereotyped. In the pre-code era there were no rules, so Blacks were actually a part of the film, not just the maid or servant. Mildred added a sense of humor, spark, and simply glowed. On screen, she educated her white employers on life, and lifted their spirits when they were feeling down. Beautiful, scintillating and engaging, Mildred often stole scenes from the leading white players.
Hearts in Dixie was one of the first black films made in Hollywood in which Mildred starred. She was said to have given an excellent performance, but sadly the film is lost. Her best role was in Torch Singer, starring Claudette Colbert. She played a maid/confidante to Colbert.
Mildred was a well educated and cultured woman who graduated from Los Angeles High School as valedictorian. She attended the University of California at Los Angeles for two years and also studied at Columbia University. In addition, she was fluent in French and Spanish. Off screen she lived well and dabbled in real estate.
By 1933, Mildred was on her way to becoming a full-time actress as studio heads were satisfied with her previous work and beauty. But it was her untimely death that stalled her escalating career. During a major earthquake in the spring of 1933, Mildred developed appendicitis after she fell running for cover from Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Her death was caused by peritonitis following appendicitis. She died on a Thursday afternoon at the White Memorial Hospital during surgery. She was 28 years old. Her funeral was a star-studded affair with many black and white stage and screen stars in attendance.
She sounds like an amazing lady and I'd love to see some of her films! Sad she died so young. Had you ever heard of Mildred Washington? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!