3 June 2015

I think we can make a profit on her

Seeing great potential in Hattie McDaniel after her performance as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind" (1939), producer David O. Selznick signed her to an exclusive contract in December of 1939. In the following memo to Jock Whitney (his business partner) and Lowell Calvert (representative of Selznick International Pictures), Selznick informs them of the just closed contract and discusses how to make a profit on McDaniel. He also mentions McDaniel's singing qualities --she had been working as a singer prior to "Gone with the Wind"-- and thinks she could be "an enormous favorite" on the radio with an Aunt Jemima type of program. McDaniel would indeed become a hit on the radio: from 1947 to 1952 she had her own show "Beulah", making her the first African-American to star in her own radio program. McDaniel was also the first African-American to receive an Academy Award, winning for her supporting role of Mammy in "Gone with the Wind".

Image courtesy of heritage auctions


TO: Mr. John Hay Whitney, Mr. L.V. Calvert


DATE: 12/12/39

We have closed a term contract with Hattie McDaniel covering pictures, radio, personal appearances, commercial tie-up rights, etc.

We did this for several reasons:

1. I thinks she is going to score a great sensation in "Gone With the Wind" and that we can use her to advantage on trades for other featured players.

2. I think we can make a profit on her.

3. I wanted to be sure she wasn't thrown into any cheap quickies that would commercialize on "Gone With the Wind".

4. I think we can make a further profit on her, and probably our most substantial profit, out of personal appearances, as well as protecting the picture. She has been showered with offers already for personal appearances, including one from a theatre in San Francisco to play opposite "Gone With the Wind" when it opens there. I believe we could sell her ourselves to great advantage. Among other things, she is reputed to be quite a singer, and could probably dish out a couple of Southern songs and what not in her personal appearances. She is quite a good show woman, works to improve herself constantly, and even went to the extent of having duplicates made of her "Gone With the Wind" dresses for her personal appearances. I think that Mr. Calvert should give the Loew theatres the first crack at her. We will be paying her $500 weekly, and I think we ought to get $1000, to protect us against any idle time.

5. I think we can make money out of her on the air. I think she could be an enormous favorite on the air and that in particular she would be a wonderful spot for something such as an Aunt Jemima program, and that we might get a great deal of money for such a program. We will handle this out here so you needn't do anything back East about her radio program. 

6. I think we can make further money out of her in commercial tie-ups and I suggest that this will be turned over to Carrier in connection with products especially designed for negroes, as well as products which use the Mammy type of figure such as Aunt Jemima.


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