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Hattie McDaniel Left a Gift for 4TH Spouse in Her Will Years after Wiping Away Tears during Their Divorce

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Jul 18, 2022
07:00 A.M.
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Hattie McDaniel was a Hollywood sensation and the first black woman to win an Academy Award for her role as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind." However, after four failed marriages, the actress decided to leave her last husband, an interesting gift for the painful time they spent together.

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Hattie McDaniel was an all-around entertainer and an American history maker. She was the first African American woman to perform on the radio in 1920 and the first black woman to win Oscar for her role as Manny in “Gone with the Wind.”

But the actress did not have the easiest life. She was born on June 10, 1893, in Wichita, Kansas, and was the 13th child in the family. Her father, a Civil war veteran, Henry McDaniel, suffered significant injuries, which made it difficult for him to secure manual labor, and her mother, Susan Holbert, worked as a domestic worker.

Hattie McDaniel in LA showing off her Oscar award 1940.  | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel in LA showing off her Oscar award 1940. | Source: Getty Images

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In 1901 McDaniel and her parents moved to Denver, Colorado, where she attended the 24th Street Elementary school and was one of only two black students in her class.

McDaniel's vocal capabilities started showing early; she sang at church, school, and at home. She was a natural entertainer and gained popularity in school very quickly.

While at Denver High School, McDaniel started singing, dancing, and performing in skits professionally as part of the school's Mighty Minstrels. The entertainer chose to drop out of high school in 1911 to devote herself to her unfolding career. She then started performing with her brother's group and ventured into organizing an all-women's minstrel show.

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Hattie McDaniel in USA 1947. |  Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel in USA 1947. | Source: Getty Images

McDaniel's orchestral vocals led her to work with Professor George Morrison's orchestra and toured with his and other vaudeville troops for several years. This landed her the opportunity to perform at Denver's KOA radio station.

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After her radio performance, McDaniel continued to tour with vaudeville troops and started making her name as a blues artist. A genre that began in the deep south of America, rooted in African American work songs, chants, and spirituals.

McDaniel was writing her music and performing whenever gigs came by. However, when work started drying up, the musician would take on odd jobs to make ends meet.

Hattie McDaniel in Hollywood 1947. |  Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel in Hollywood 1947. | Source: Getty Images

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McDaniel relied on her natural talent of entering; that was her big career goal. She lived in a time of history where life for black people was not easy; thus, getting an office secretary job was not in the cards for her.

Therefore, McDaniel's bathroom attendant jobs were a temporary relief, but the actress was lucky to secure a steady job as a vocalist at Sam Pick's Suburban Inn in Milwaukee.

Approximately a year later, McDaniel's brother, Sam, and sister, Etta, convinced the singer to move to Los Angeles. The siblings were all interested in making it in the entertainment industry, so they moved with a few minor film roles they landed for themselves.

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Hattie McDaniel in Hollywood 1947.  | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel in Hollywood 1947. | Source: Getty Images

This was the beginning of McDaniels rise in Hollywood. Between 1931 and 1933, the actress secured small roles in films until she landed her major feature in 1934, singing a duet with Will Rogers in "John Ford's Judge Priest."

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The following year McDaniel was awarded the opportunity to act alongside Shirley Tempel in "Little Colonel." This was the part that got her recognized in Hollywood.

Hattie McDaniel in acting in "Gone with the Wind" 1939 | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel in acting in "Gone with the Wind" 1939 | Source: Getty Images

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The only way was up for McDaniel; the singer bagged herself the role that would win her an Oscar. The character of Mammy, who was a servant in the widely acclaimed film "Gone with the Wind," made McDaniel the first Black woman to win an Academy award of that caliber.

Due to the state of the American economy at the time, McDaniel was not allowed to attend her Oscar ceremony because of her race; however, she created a significant moment in history for people of color.

MCDANIEL'S TURBULENT MARRIAGES

Hattie McDaniel with actor Paul Robeson on the set of the musical "Show Boat". | Source; Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel with actor Paul Robeson on the set of the musical "Show Boat". | Source; Getty Images

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McDaniel's first husband was pianist Howard Hickman, whom she married in 1911 when she dropped out of high school to perform with her brothers. Hickman died after four years of them being married in 1915.

Around 1920, the Oscar winner married her second husband, Nymadula "Nym" Lankford, who worked as a laborer—according to reports, Lankford married Irene Graham while still with McDaniel, with who he had a daughter and son. Both of Lankford's kids died at a very young age. The blues singer divorced Lankford in 1938, and he died in 1965.

The book "The Life of Hattie McDaniel" presents the singer as a party thrower. According to the book, the singer would have gatherings with almost 500 people that filled up the front and the back of her house.

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Hattie McDaniel in LA 1940.  | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel in LA 1940. | Source: Getty Images

This time her packed party was to celebrate her union with her third husband, Lloyd Crawford. During her 1940's marriage, McDaniel suffered a difficult nine-month false pregnancy that led to immense emotional distress that almost had her evicted.

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The marriage only lasted a year because McDaniel quickly realized William's malicious intentions.

The turbulent marriage with Crawford led to another divorce. The autobiographical book about McDaniel also stated that another reason the marriage ended was that her husband did not see the need to work because of McDaniel's success.

THE GIFT MCDANIEL LEFT FOR HER 4TH HUSBAND

Hattie McDaniel in a studio portrait in 1935. |  Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel in a studio portrait in 1935. | Source: Getty Images

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The singer tried her luck at love for the fourth time and married Lacy Williams. The marriage only lasted a year because McDaniel quickly realized William's malicious intentions.

Reports say that Williams tried to trick the successful actress into managing her career to eventually end up with half of her fortunes. But McDaniels was not left blindsided; she decided to divorce him when he actively tried to ruin her career.

Hattie McDaniel in New York 1940.  | Source: Getty Images

Hattie McDaniel in New York 1940. | Source: Getty Images

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In 1950, in her autobiography "The life of Hattie McDaniel,” wrote that the actress came out of the Los Angeles Superior Courtroom in tears after winning a default divorce decree from Williams.

After Williams had tirelessly attempted to earn McDaniel's fortunes, the actress decided to leave her ex-husband a gift for his efforts. The actress wrote in her will that her last dying wish was for William to receive $1 from her riches.

McDaniel died two years after her separation from Williams. The iconic Hollywood actress and entertainer lost her battle to cancer in 1952.

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