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Hattie McDaniel's 4 Marriages All Failed — She Allegedly Had a Romance with a 'Lesbian' Actress

Monica Otayza
Oct 06, 2021
12:20 A.M.

Hattie McDaniel lived an eventful life, having been the first woman of color ever to win an Oscar. However, one rumor that plagued her for years was her alleged affair with Tallulah Bankhead.

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For her role in 1939's "Gone with the Wind," Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar. She left such a great legacy, opening the doors for her fellow people of color in Hollywood.

In Ryan Murphy's "Hollywood," the lives of the industry's closeted movie stars are discussed. There, McDaniel, played by Queen Latifah, was in a relationship with Tallulah Bankhead, played by Paget Brewster.

A photo edit of Hattie McDaniel and Tallulah Bankhead together | Source: Getty Images

A photo edit of Hattie McDaniel and Tallulah Bankhead together | Source: Getty Images

THEIR LIVES IN "HOLLYWOOD"

Their episode showed the alleged couple all cozied up in McDaniel's house, chatting about their fling with one of Scotty Bowers' employees. In the show, their relationship was a fact and not fiction.

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Like what the show portrayed, McDaniel and Bankhead's relationship was a rumor that lasted for years. The pair never confirmed nor denied it, so it was difficult to pin down just when it all started.

Hattie McDaniel circa 1947 | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel circa 1947 | Source: Getty Images

However, the show did not necessarily portray what happened in reality. In 1940, McDaniel was banned from the premiere of "Gone with the Wind" as it was played at an all-white theater.

She was rejected by the NAACP because they felt the roles she played were racist stereotypes of people of color.

Hattie McDaniel viewing a Camera Exhibit in New York in 1941 | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel viewing a Camera Exhibit in New York in 1941 | Source: Getty Images

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But in "Hollywood," Murphy made sure to welcome her into the historical ceremony. Speaking about his decision to do that, he said:

"It was an emotional thing to give them the happy ending that they had been denied."

Hattie McDaniel, star of the CBS Radio program "The Beulah Show" on November 14, 1947 | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel, star of the CBS Radio program "The Beulah Show" on November 14, 1947 | Source: Getty Images

HER HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

McDaniel's career started when she figured out she wanted to become an actress at 6. She was born in Wichita, Kansas, as the 13th child of former slaves. In Denver, where she was raised, she discovered her love for performing, particularly singing and dancing.

At 15, she dropped out of high school to pursue her dream. She started touring with her brother's carnival company and created a women's minstrel show called McDaniel Sisters Company.

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Hattie McDaniel in Hollywood, California circa 1947 | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel in Hollywood, California circa 1947 | Source: Getty Images

GETTING TO HOLLYWOOD

Before her big break, she ventured into the radio business before joining George Morrison's Melody Hounds, a touring jazz orchestra. It was the orchestra that put her under the spotlight, leading her to Hollywood in 1931.

Like many at the time, McDaniel's roles would often see her as a maid. In total, she played 74 servant roles throughout her career. She starred with Shirley Temple in "The Little Colonel" and formed a friendship with Clark Gable on "China Seas."

Hattie McDaniel with her Academy Award for "Gone with the Wind" circa 1940 | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel with her Academy Award for "Gone with the Wind" circa 1940 | Source: Getty Images

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HER BIGGEST ROLE

McDaniel is best known as head servant Mammy on "Gone with the Wind" with Butterfly McQueen. She was suggested for the role by Bing Crosby, and it would end up winning her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Her win was a historic one for people of color. The Oscars took place at the Coconut Grove nightclub in The Ambassador Hotel, which at the time didn't allow Black patrons.

However, "Gone with the Wind" producer David O. Selznick made a special request for her to be let into the building. While she had to sit at a table away from her co-stars, it didn't matter because she was being honored.

AN ICONIC WIN

Speaking about the win, McDaniel said it made her "own people" happy. At the time, it was as if Hollywood was honoring their entire race. She said:

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"This was too big a moment for my personal back-slapping. I wanted this occasion to prove an inspiration to Negro youth for many years to come."

STEREOTYPICAL ROLES

Despite her historic place in history, McDaniel was rejected by the NAACP because they felt the roles she played were racist stereotypes of people of color. They especially did so because of "Gone with the Wind," which featured racial slurs out in the open.

Ultimately, she defended herself by saying she would persuade directors to omit dialect deemed disrespectful. She added that her critics think the public is "more naive than it is."

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HER PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS

McDaniel was married four times, losing her first husband to pneumonia, while the other three ended in divorce. She did not have children in any of her marriages.

While she was married, a rumor that once circulated Hollywood for years was her alleged relationship with Bankhead, who was once the most famous actress on London's West End, the British equivalent of Broadway.

Tallulah Bankhead in a promotional shot for Paramount Pictures circa 1932 | Source: Getty Images

Tallulah Bankhead in a promotional shot for Paramount Pictures circa 1932 | Source: Getty Images

ABOUT TALLULAH BANKHEAD

Bankhead ventured into Hollywood, starring in hits like "Devil and the Deep" in 1932. Her Hollywood career didn't do any justice to her talent, so she went back to Broadway.

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However, while her Hollywood career was uneventful, she was known for being a socialite. She was a heavy drinker and often chain-smoked in events, even having a habit of taking her clothes off and talking to people in the nude.

HER PUBLIC PROCLAMATION

At one point, Bankhead made a public proclamation, saying: "Hattie McDaniel is my best friend!" This started a decades-long rumor that there was an affair between them.

Although their relationship was never confirmed, it was the subject of several projects, such as the books "The Sewing Circle" and "The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood." In 2000, a musical was made about them, titled "Tallulah and Hattie: Dead at the Pearly Gates Cafe."

Tallulah Bankhead pictured at Hotel Ambassador in New York circa 1954 | Source: Getty Images

Tallulah Bankhead pictured at Hotel Ambassador in New York circa 1954 | Source: Getty Images

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MCDANIEL'S LAST DAYS

In 1952, McDaniel passed away after a battle with breast cancer. She threw a "deathbed party," which had people drinking and laughing. She also left specific instructions for her funeral, writing:

"I desire a white casket and a white shroud; white gardenias in my hair and in my hands, together with a white gard­enia blanket and a pillow of red roses."

Promotional photo of Tallulah Bankhead, circa 1941 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images, Public Domain,

Promotional photo of Tallulah Bankhead, circa 1941 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images, Public Domain,

REMEMBERING TWO ICONS

Although McDaniels wanted to be buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, it was at the time, for whites only. She was buried at the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery instead, but a memorial was built for her in Hollywood Forever in 1999.

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Meanwhile, Bankhead died in 1968 after battling pneumonia. She was best known for using the term "dah-ling," and it's something that people continue to remember her by.

She is remembered as a free-spirited and extremely unpredictable actress, with quite a few rumors following her everywhere when she was alive. She was born in a conservative political family, yet she sought love affairs from women like McDaniel and others like Greta Garbo and Patsy Kelly.

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