1 Piano Player
Hattie McDaniel was born in 1895, the daughter of a minister. Her parents, ex-slaves, instilled in her the importance of keeping her faith in God and never giving up on her dreams, no matter how difficult life became.
She wanted to be an actress at a time when there were no African-American actresses. Anytime African-Americans were needed in a movie, white people appeared wearing black makeup. Her teachers and schoolmates ridiculed her for her dreams. “Don’t you know actresses beautiful and they white?”
When Professor George Morrison, who had a local radio program, asked her to sing on the radio, she became the first African-American to sing over the radio in the United States. She toured with Professor George Morrison and met and married Danny, a trumpet player, who had a penchant for gambling. He was determined to make Hattie’s dream of being an actress come true. When auditions for the touring company of SHOWBOAT were announced, she won the part of Queenie in a show that, for the first time, was using white people and African-Americans on the same stage together.
While gambling, Danny was murdered. Alone, broke, and out of work, during the stock market crash of 1929, Hattie took a job as a ladies’ room attendant in an all-white nightclub. One night when the lead act did not show up, she broke the color barrier and became the headliner at Sam Pick’s Suburban Inn. She made recordings and went to Hollywood, where she began as a shadowy background extra. Soon, her unique presence got her juicier supporting roles, until she finally won the plum role of Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND.
No African-American had ever been nominated for an Academy Award nor had even attended the awards ceremony, but Hattie won the best-supporting actress for playing Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND, even beating out her white co-star, Olivia DeHavaland.
Winning the Academy Award was the start of Hattie’s problems. Walter White, head of the NAACP, who was gaining strength across the United States, attacked her for perpetuating stereotypes and called for a boycott of her movies. The studios, pushed into a corner by whites on one side who would not accept positive roles for African-Americans and the NAACP who protested casting them as domestics, stopped casting African-Americans.
Losing the profession she loved, Hattie faced the biggest crisis of her career. Drawing on the strength of faith that her parents instilled in her, Hattie ultimately faced Walter White, who, though he was head of the NAACP, was only one eighth African America and had blond hair and blue eyes and no real understanding of the plight of African-American actors and the troubles they faced.
Hattie persevered, not only in her time, but in our time, because the image of her fine acting, her comedy genius, and her musical talent linger in the movies she left behind.
What The Critics Say
“The show emerges as a vivid portrait in words and music of a pioneering artist whose well-developed work ethic and abiding faith earned her a place in show business history. The show’s book underscores the bitter irony of McDaniel’s plight. She faces the triumphs, ironies, and indignities of public and private life and ultimately emerges as a multidimensional figure of amazing grace.” Robert Eisele, Kansas City Star.
“This is an evening at the theater which is as exciting and professional as anything on Broadway or in London. The audience feels privileged to hear the story of an American who broke racial barriers, but who remained true to her own culture and upbringing -- while at the same time savoring the rousing music presented by Karla Burns and Gordon Twist.” Kathy Brooks, The Longboat Observer.
“Hi-Hat Hattie is a loving, candid look at the life of the woman best remembered as the Oscar-winning Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND. It’s a dose of the searing reality faced by a black actress during her life span, 1895 to 1952.” Jean Reed, Pelican Press.
“The great charm of HI-HAT HATTIE at the Quality Hill Playhouse is Larry Parr’s script – a joyously personal account of one woman’s life, loves, and triumphs” Kansas City Sun.
“Larry Parr’s script is full of subtle revelations that seem innocent in and of themselves, but add up to a profound statement about how McDaniel’s accomplishments were overlooked because of the kinds of parts she played. In the end, HI-HAT HATTIE stands out as a prime example of education through entertainment. It’s impossible not to be incensed by the racism McDaniel faced in her career, as well as be moved by the courageous way she dealt with it.” Anne Gelhaus, Palo Alto Metro.
”...lights the pyrotechnic personality of this great American entertainer with all the dazzle of a Fourth of July fireworks display. A lifetime of pain and joy in the theater.” Leah D. Frank, The New York Times.
“Hi-Hat Hattie offers a feisty, flamboyant, unrepentant affirmation of black American culture, present and past.” Michael Grossberg, The Columbus Dispatch.
“Hi-Hat Hattie is more than a worthy theatrical production in many regards. What the play does best is reveal some insights into the human experience from an era that fostered discrimination.” M. Boheme.