The Truth About Clark Gable's Relationship With Hattie McDaniel

"Gone With the Wind" is one of Clark Gable's most famous films. He played the role of Rhett Butler alongside Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara as the two lead characters. Gable was known as the "King of Hollywood" and was one of the highest-paid actors of the era (via The Los Angeles Times). Of the 67 movies Gable appeared in over the course of his career, 16 of them found their way to the top of the box office charts. He was in classics like "Mutiny on the Bounty," "It Happened One Night," and of course, the legendary "Gone With the Wind," a film that was groundbreaking in its own right, even if it didn't have a Hollywood legend as its leading man.

In 1940, for her role as Mammy in "Gone With the Wind," Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award. The Hollywood Reporter revealed that despite her nomination and win, McDaniel was not allowed to sit with the rest of the cast and crew for the ceremony. The awards were held at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in The Ambassador Hotel — a whites-only hotel. McDaniel was escorted to a table against the far wall. Prior to the 1940 Academy Awards, McDaniel was not even allowed to attend the film's premiere in Atlanta due to the state's Jim Crow laws (via The National Student). Though she dealt with segregation all over the United States, co-star Clark Gable was a friend to her.

Hattie McDaniel climbs the showbiz ladder against the odds

Hattie McDaniel had an unconventional path into show business. According to Britannica, she was born on June 10, 1895 in Wichita, Kansas. She would grow up in Denver Colorado, and from an early age it was apparent that the young McDaniel had a talent when it came to performing. She joined a traveling minstrel group and even became one of the first Black women to ever make an appearance on a then-new entertainment medium: radio.

However, her career would take a hit along with most of the country at the onset of the Great Depression. The economic conditions made finding work difficult for vaudeville and minstrel performers of the era. To make ends meet, McDaniel found herself in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, working as a bathroom attendant in a nightclub. The club had a policy of only hiring white performers, but some of the club's patrons learned of McDaniel's talents and convinced the club to let her on stage. She stayed at the club for a year, before leaving town for Los Angeles.

Once in LA, McDaniel got a job  on a radio program called "The Optimistic Do-Nuts." She took on the nickname Hi-Hat Hattie, and before long was the star of the show. In 1932, McDaniel would make her big screen debut, and her first major role would come in 1934 when she appeared in the film "Judge Priest." The film was directed by John Ford and featured McDaniel singing a duet with Will Rogers.

Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind

Clark Gable considered boycotting the "Gone With the Wind" premiere upon hearing that Hattie McDaniel wasn't allowed to attend. McDaniel was the one who convinced him not to do so. The two got along extremely well, as evidenced by their on-set antics. Gable once pranked McDaniel by slipping alcohol into some tea. She did not notice until she tasted it (via MentalFloss).

"Gone With the Wind" was not the first film that featured Gable and McDaniel. In 1935, McDaniel appeared as a maid in "China Seas," but she is not credited in the film, according to Silver Screen Classics. As part of the film's promotion, however, McDaniel was referred to as "one of the most prominent performers of her race." It was on the set of this film that her and Gable initially forged their friendship (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Though Gable and McDaniel were friends and Gable was willing to object to McDaniel's exclusion at the premiere, "Gone With the Wind" remains marked by controversy. In the near century since "Gone With the Wind" etched McDaniel into Hollywood history, The New York Times explains that many have criticized the film for its seemingly positive portrayal of life in the South before the Civil War, and the absence of struggles among servant characters played by African Americans, including McDaniel's character of Mammy. This was a controversy that plagued McDaniels' career, but according to The Hollywood Reporter, her usual response to such criticism was "I'd rather play a maid than be a maid."