Butterfly McQueen Remembered

Overview

Butterfly McQueen will always be remembered for her first screen role—as Scarlett O'Hara's hysterical servant girl, Prissy, in Gone With the Wind (1939)—and for her most famous line in the Civil War epic: "I don't know nuthin' 'bout birthin' babies!" Though many criticized her for playing an offensive caricature of black womanhood, film scholar Donald Bogle claims her performance is "a unique combination of the comic and the pathetic." Tired of playing what she called "stupid maids," however, Butterfly turned her...

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Overview

Butterfly McQueen will always be remembered for her first screen role—as Scarlett O'Hara's hysterical servant girl, Prissy, in Gone With the Wind (1939)—and for her most famous line in the Civil War epic: "I don't know nuthin' 'bout birthin' babies!" Though many criticized her for playing an offensive caricature of black womanhood, film scholar Donald Bogle claims her performance is "a unique combination of the comic and the pathetic." Tired of playing what she called "stupid maids," however, Butterfly turned her back on Hollywood in the 1940s and spent the next fifty years in obscurity. On several occasions she tried to revive her theatrical career, but her identification with Prissy made it difficult for her to be taken seriously by producers and casting agents. Mostly she supported herself by taking menial jobs. In the 1970s she was active in social work projects in Harlem, and was awarded a degree by the City College of New York. In 1989, as one of the last surviving members of the cast of Gone With the Wind, Butterfly happily participated in the film's 50th anniversary celebrations. At the time of the celebrations she said: "Now I am happy I did Gone With the Wind. I wasn't when I was 28, but it's part of black history. You have no idea how hard it is for black actors, but things change, things blossom in time." In Butterfly McQueen Remembered, author Stephen Bourne, who corresponded with Butterfly for many years, draws upon two decades of research to document her life and career. From her memorable role in one of Hollywood's greatest films to her last big screen appearance opposite Harrison Ford in The Mosquito Coast, the details of McQueen's life are captured in this intimate portrait. Bourne chronicles the ups and downs of this talented and generous woman's life, both in front of the camera and far from its glaring spotlight.

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Editorial Reviews

Patrick Newley
Stephen Bourne's memoir of this great performer is well researched and beautifully written - as one would expect from this biographer. It's also a chilling tale of how Hollywood destroys its own and one that deserves to be read by actors and fans of McQueen alike.
July 2009 Black and Asian Studies Association Newsletter
Bourne pulls all into perspective and reveals a talented but unfulfilled actor who was frustrated and denied by larger systems and institutions; an altruistic survivor who later became an anti-poverty activist. All Black actors working in Hollywood should read Bourne's biographies on McQueen and Ethel Waters (2007). Film historians and anti-racist educators should place these works as staples on Black History booklists. It is a solidly crafted work on an enigmatic Black woman.
Winter 2009 Black Camera
Bourne's Butterfly McQueen Remembered is a much-needed entry in the history of American and black American culture and artistic production . . . The chronicle of McQueen's journey as a performing artist will be valuable in stimulating new scholarship in the history of black theater and is a rich resource for those looking at the history of black creativity in Hollywood. It is likely to inspire further inquiry into the early twentieth-century work of lesser known black theater artists and into the complex climate endured by black actors in Hollywood.
October 2008 Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Stephen Bourne's portrait of this remarkable woman is not just a study of her life, work and beliefs. It is also a more general account of the plight of African American actors in the Hollywood studio system and a re-examination of the nature and meaning of their performances.
Library Journal

McQueen (1911-95) is best known for playing a young slave named Prissy in the Civil War epic Gone with the Wind, a role much criticized as an offensive caricature of black women. In this book, Bourne (Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather) provides an intimate portrait of McQueen's life and career, from her early years to the day she turned her back on Hollywood.


—Ann Burns
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810860186
  • Publisher: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/9/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 0.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Bourne is a regular contributor to Black Filmmaker magazine and has been interviewed in several documentaries, including Black Divas (1996) and Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (1999). He is the author of Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television (2001), Elisabeth Welch: Soft Lights and Sweet Music (Scarecrow, 2005), and Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather (Scarecrow, 2007).

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Table of Contents

Part 1 Foreword Chapter 2 Acknowledgments Part 3 Introduction Chapter 4 1. Before Butterfly Became Prissy Chapter 5 2. Gone With the Wind Chapter 6 3. Black Resistance to Gone With the Wind Chapter 7 4. Hattie McDaniel: More Than a Mammy Chapter 8 5. Swingin' the Dream Chapter 9 6. Butterfly in Hollywood Chapter 10 7. Mildred Pierce Chapter 11 8. Making a Stand Chapter 12 9. What Ever Happened to Butterfly McQueen? Chapter 13 10. The Fiftieth Anniversary of Gone With the Wind Part 14 Afterword Part 15 Appendix A: Butterfly McQueen's Credits Part 16 Appendix B: Gone With the Wind: Awards, Statistics, and Movie Lists Part 17 Appendix C: Butterfly's "Essays" and "Booklets" Part 18 Appendix D: International Security Corporation of Virginia v. McQueen Part 19 Bibliography Part 20 Index Part 21 About the Author

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