Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Butterflies Are Free

January 7, 1911 - December 22, 1995

She had one of the most distinctive faces and voices in film history; and when you consider that she didn't even receive proper screen credit for some of her roles, her enduring popularity is a real testament to the affection and, belatedly, respect that audiences feel for Butterfly McQueen. After all, anyone who survives not only the burning of Atlanta and being slapped by Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, but also being Joan Crawford's maid twice (The Women and Mildred Pierce) must be made of strong stock.

Ms. McQueen quit films in 1947, frustrated by the racial injustices of Hollywood. She made a brief return in the late 1970's and 1980's, winning a Daytime Emmy for an ABC After School Special appearance. In her later years, Ms. McQueen was a colorful, outspoken interviwee for Gone with the Wind-related projects, and even performed a one-woman show of "song, poetry and dance." One of our friends saw it, and confirms that it was just as bizarre, surreal, and entertaining as you would imagine.

For all her eternally pixie-like spirit, it seemed as if Butterfly McQueen would be with us forever. Horrifyingly, she died at the age of 84 when her clothes caught fire from the kerosene lamp she was lighting in her modest home. But, of course, movie gods and goddesses never really die; and Butterfly McQueen, brief though her screen time may have been, made her indelible mark on celluloid. By giving all her Prissy's, Lottie's, and Lulu's some measure of dignity and a healthy dose of sly humor, she guaranteed her own immortality. Happy Birthday, Butterfly McQueen!


  1. The website of BBCRadio4 offered a re-broadcast last year, of an interview that Ms McQueen gave to Terry Wogan. She was a model of grace and good manners, but that didn't rule out startling candor. Being slapped around by Vivien Leigh, for example, was not one of her favorite memories.

  2. She also apparently refused to film a scene where Prissy was shown eating watermelon. In a GWTW documentary, after recounting some of her more prickly showdowns with Mr. Sleznick, Ms. McQueen gigglingly recalls Hattie McDaniel telling her, "You'll never make it in Hollywood, you COMPLAIN too much!"

  3. Yeah, I think Miss Vivien really whalloped her good for real! That couldn't have been fun. Interesting post about her. Thanks!


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