“To embrace the whole of America”: The Legacy of Hattie McDaniel

As movie fans eagerly await the Oscars, it’s worth remembering the night when black history forever became Hollywood history, too. At a banquet in 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Academy Award—and quietly bequeathed a legacy of hope to other black performers.

USPS06STA004BIn 2006, McDaniel was featured on a Black Heritage stamp—a potentially controversial decision for the Postal Service, because the actress dealt with withering scorn for playing maids and other stereotypical roles. “I’d rather play a maid than be one,” she often quipped, working behind the scenes to battle racism and discrimination in ways that her critics came to appreciate only later.

McDaniel won praise from the NAACP and the National Urban League when she played the title role on The Beulah Show, a radio program that aired from 1947 to 1952. As the lead in the first radio show to feature a black star, she insisted that her character not speak in dialect, and she successfully negotiated the right to alter scripts that didn’t meet her approval.

Of course, McDaniel’s ultimate claim to immortality remains her turn in the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind. Unfortunately, her actual award—not a statuette, but a small plaque—has long since vanished. Prior to her death in 1952, she bequeathed the plaque to Howard University, but it went missing sometime in the 1960s. The search for the award prompted a recent Washington Post feature story and a fascinating law journal article—and hope that it may someday reappear.

In the meantime, we’re pleased to have honored McDaniel on a stamp that shows her in the dress she wore on the biggest night of her career, and to have told her story on a commemorative panel. Her accomplishment was aptly and movingly summed up by actress Fay Bainter, who presented her with the Academy Award: “It opens the doors of this room, moves back the walls, and enables us to embrace the whole of America.”

We have two copies of the 2006 Hattie McDaniel commemorative panel to give away today. The 8 ½ x 11 ¼-inch panel includes a background narrative about McDaniel as well as historic images and a block of four mint Hattie McDaniel stamps in a protective acetate mount. To enter to win, all you have to do is email your name and address to uspsstamps [at] gmail [dot] com. Two winners will be selected at random. The deadline for entries is 10 p.m. EST, Friday, February 22. Good luck!

CONTEST UPDATE: Congratulations to our two winners: Tomekia Walker and Mark Pawelczak! If you didn’t win this time, don’t worry. We’ll have plenty more contests and giveaways throughout the year.

Happy Birthday, Bob Fosse!

Today we’re celebrating the birthday of choreographer Bob Fosse. Check out this great performance from Fosse’s second film, Cabaret (1972), which starred Liza Minnelli as an American nightclub performer in Berlin when the Nazis come to power.

Cabaret is regarded as a landmark in the history of Hollywood musicals. Fosse was determined to set the action in the “real world” of Berlin in the 1930s, so he eliminated the stage convention in which characters sing in the course of their daily lives; here, the singing is “realistic” and occurs only in the context of the cabaret or beer garden.

The film won eight Oscars, including one for Fosse as best director, in 1973. That same year, he won two Tony awards as best director and best choreographer for the musical Pippin, as well as three Emmy awards for his direction, choreography, and production of the television special Liza With a Z. No other director has won the “Triple Crown” (Oscar, Tony, and Emmy awards) in the same year.

Bob Fosse will be featured on the Innovative Choreographers stamps, which will be issued July 28 in Los Angeles, California. We can’t wait! For more information about the stamps, visit Beyond the Perf.

Summer Shivers with Director Billy Wilder

It’s Friday. How about some film noir?

This clip is from Double Indemnity (1944), written by director Billy Wilder and author Raymond Chandler. It stars Barbara Stanwyck as a woman who teams up with an insurance agent (played by Fred MacMurray) to murder her husband. The film, considered risky material for its time, set conventions for later noir films and brought Wilder his first Academy Award nomination for best direction.

Billy Wilder, who was born on this day in 1906, is featured on the Great Film Directors stamps, which were issued May 23, 2012, in Silver Spring, MD. For more information about the stamps, visit Beyond the Perf.

Wilder worked successfully in various genres, from the noir of Double Indemnity to the wild farce of Some Like It Hot (1959),and created several of Hollywood’s most unforgettable pictures. Want to see more of his work? You’re in luck because TCM is hosting a birthday tribute tonight! Films include the screwball comedy Ninotchka (1939), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Love in the Afternoon (1957), and The Spirit of St. Louis (1957). Throwing a Billy Wilder theme party? Send us some pictures to uspsstamps [a] gmail [dot] com (they must include the stamp!), and we may feature them here.

Some Like It Hot © 1959 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

John Ford’s Larger-Than-Life Films Portray Pioneering Spirit

No filmmaker has been more sensitive to the American landscape than John Ford. Though he is often associated with stories of the Old West, Ford’s work shows an impressive range. He received five Academy Award nominations for directing, winning four times—for The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), and The Quiet Man (1952). His fifth nomination was for Stagecoach (1939), lauded by critic Pauline Kael as a “movie that has just about everything.”

The son of Irish immigrants, Ford was born on February 1, 1894, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He went to Hollywood as a young man, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Francis, who had gone there to work in the fledgling movie industry. He learned his craft by acting in bit parts and by assisting his older brother. He directed dozens of pictures—many with silent film actor Harry Carey—before he had a major success with The Iron Horse (1924), a feature film about the building of the transcontinental railroad.

The Informer, an adaptation of a prizewinning novel by Liam O’Flaherty, is set during the Irish War of Independence. It centers on a man torn by a guilty conscience after he reports a friend’s involvement in the Irish Republican Army to the police.

Stagecoach showcased John Wayne in his breakthrough role as the Ringo Kid, a fugitive traveling by stagecoach with a diverse group that included Thomas Mitchell as an alcoholic doctor and Claire Trevor as a goodhearted prostitute. It was shot on location in Monument Valley, a distinctive area on the Arizona/Utah border where Ford made several films.

The Grapes of Wrath, based on John Steinbeck’s novel, starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, a poor farmer from Oklahoma who travels to California with his family in search of a better life during the Great Depression. Widely regarded as a classic, The Grapes of Wrath is considered one of the greatest expressions of sympathy for the poor in American cinema.

How Green Was My Valley, an elegiac look at the passing of a way of life in a Welsh mining community, won several Academy Awards, including one for best picture, in addition to Ford’s for direction.

The Quiet Man is a boisterous romantic comedy starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. It was a pet project that Ford struggled for years to make, earned him another Oscar, and remains an audience favorite.

During World War II, Ford was chief of a U.S. Navy film unit that produced several documentaries. One of them, The Battle of Midway (1942), won an Academy Award “for the historical value of its achievement….” A year later, December 7th earned an Oscar for best documentary short subject. Ford played an active role in the production of films documenting the North African invasion, the campaign in Burma, the Normandy invasion, and—when the war was over—the Nuremberg Trials.

After the war, Ford’s films included several Westerns, among them My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950). One of his most influential works, The Searchers (1956), starred John Wayne as a man bent on vengeance after the deaths of his family members.

Digital Color Postmark (click to order)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) stars John Wayne as a taciturn man of action and James Stewart as a lawyer and politician; it suggests that “civilization” is maintained by hidden acts of violence. It contains one of the most famous lines in Ford’s movies, spoken by a newspaperman: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

A recurring theme in Ford’s work is the struggle of order (represented, for example, by towns, railroads, or the military) against disorder (nature, outlaws, etc.). His heroes were inexpressive, masculine archetypes, who dramatized the tension between individualism and law and order. Another characteristic theme is the competing attractions of adventure and domesticity.

Some of Ford’s other films include What Price Glory (1952), Mogambo (1953), and The Last Hurrah (1958). He employed many of the same crew members from picture to picture and repeatedly cast many of the same performers, chief among them John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Ward Bond, his older brother Francis Ford, and the son of his old friend and early associate, Harry Carey, Jr. Members of Ford’s “company” sometimes referred to him as “Pappy.” He died on August 31, 1973.

Three of Ford’s works—The Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach, and The Searchers—are included on a list of 100 greatest movies compiled by the American Film Institute (AFI). Ford’s other honors include the Medal of Freedom, presented by President Richard Nixon on March 31, 1973. That same year, the AFI gave Ford its lifetime achievement award.

John Ford is one of four directors featured on the Great Film Directors pane. The stamps will be issued on May 23 in Silver Spring, Maryland, but you can preorder them today!
The John Wayne name and likeness licensed by John Wayne Enterprises, LLC. Newport Beach, CA. All rights reserved.

Jose Ferrer First Day of Issue Ceremony a Theatrical Affair

Thank you to everyone who came out last week to the First Day of Issue Ceremony for the José Ferrer stamp, the 14th stamp in the Distinguished Americans series. Ferrer, whose career spanned the worlds of theater, film, television, and music, was the first Latino to win the Oscar for Best Actor and is considered to be one of the most accomplished talents of his generation.

The ceremony took place at The Players in New York City. The Players serves primarily as a social club but is also a repository of American and British theater history, memorabilia and theatrical artifacts. Ferrer was a longtime member and received the organization’s prestigious Edwin Booth Life Achievement Award.

Steve Kearney, USPS, addresses the crowd before the stamp is unveiled

“Today, the Postal Service is pleased and proud to bestow upon José Ferrer—a groundbreaking Latino movie, theater and television performer and the first Puerto Rican actor to succeed in Hollywood—a new commemorative Forever stamp,” said Marie Therese Dominguez, vice president, Government Relations and Public Policy for USPS. “Throughout an acting career that spanned more than half a century, Ferrer played a wide range of roles on both Broadway and on the silver screen. His accomplishments extended to many other genres of entertainment. He acted on radio, performed as an opera singer, co-authored a libretto, and was a composer. And, as if all this weren’t enough, Ferrer wrote for theater and television, and directed and produced numerous plays, both on and off Broadway.”

Joining Dominguez to dedicate the stamp were Ferrer’s wife Stella Ferrer; Rafael Ferrer, voice-over artist; Theodore Chapin, chairman of the Board of Trustees, American Theatre Wing; John Martello, executive director of The Players; Harold Smith Prince, Broadway producer-director; actors Frances Sternhagen and Christopher Lloyd; and Stephen Kearney, manager, Stamp Services, U.S. Postal Service.

Steve Kearney, USPS, & actor Christopher Lloyd wait to sign stamp panes

Artwork based on a photograph © Turner Entertainment Co. A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. All Rights Reserved.