Butterfly McQueen

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Butterfly McQueen
Butterfly McQueen in Affectionately Yours trailer.jpg
in Affectionately Yours (1941)
Thelma McQueen

(1911-01-07)January 7, 1911
DiedDecember 22, 1995(1995-12-22) (aged 84)
Cause of deathBurns sustained in a fire
Alma materCity College of New York
Years active1939–1989
Signature of Butterfly McQueen (1980).png

Thelma "Butterfly" McQueen (January 7, 1911 – December 22, 1995) was an American actress. She was originally a dancer. McQueen first appeared on screen in 1939, as "Prissy", Scarlett O'Hara's maid in the movie Gone with the Wind. She continued as an actress in movies through the 1940s, then moving to television acting in the 1950s.

Early life[change | change source]

Butterfly was born Thelma McQueen in Tampa, Florida. She was planning to become a nurse until a high-school teacher suggested that she try acting. McQueen studied with Janet Collins and went on to dance with the Venezuela Jones Negro Youth Group. Around this time she received the nickname "Butterfly" because of her constantly moving hands in the Butterfly Ballet in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. She had always hated her birth name, and later legally changed her name to Butterfly McQueen. She performed with the dance troupe of Katherine Dunham. She made her professional debut in George Abbott's Brown Sugar.[1]

Career[change | change source]

McQueen's first on-screen credited role was "Prissy", the young maid in Gone with the Wind. McQueen did not enjoy playing the part and felt it was demeaning to African Americans.[2]

She also played a small part as a sales assistant in The Women (1939). She also played "Butterfly", Rochester's niece and Mary Livingstone's maid in the Jack Benny radio program, for a time during World War II. She appeared in a small role in Mildred Pierce (1945) and played a supporting role in Duel in the Sun (1946). By 1947, she had grown tired of the ethnic stereotypes she was required to play. She then ended her movie career.

From 1950 until 1952 she played "Oriole", another racially stereotyped role, on the television series Beulah. In a lighter moment, she appeared in an episode of The Dating Game in 1969.

Offers for acting roles began to decline around this time, and she devoted herself to other pursuits including political study; she received a bachelor's degree in political science from City College of New York in 1975.[3] In 1979 McQueen won a Daytime Emmy Award for her performance as Aunt Thelma, a fairy godmother in the ABC Afterschool Special episode "The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody."[4] She had one more role of substance in the 1986 movie The Mosquito Coast.

Personal life[change | change source]

McQueen never married or had any children. She lived in New York in the summer months and in Augusta, Georgia during the winter.[5]

In July 1983, a jury awarded McQueen US$60,000 in a judgment stemming from a lawsuit she filed against two bus-terminal security guards. McQueen sued for harassment after she claimed the security guards accused her of being a pickpocket and a vagrant while she was at a bus terminal in April 1979.[6]

Death[change | change source]

McQueen died at age 84 on December 22, 1995 at Augusta Regional Medical Center in Augusta. She died from burns she had gotten when a kerosene heater she tried to light malfunctioned and burst into flames.[7]

A lifelong atheist,[8] she donated her body to medical science[3] and remembered the Freedom From Religion Foundation in her will.

Filmography[change | change source]

Year Title Role Notes
1939 The Women Lulu - Cosmetics Counter Maid Uncredited
1939 Gone with the Wind Prissy
1941 Affectionately Yours Butterfly
1943 Cabin in the Sky Lily
1943 I Dood It Annette Alternative title: By Hook or by Crook
1945 Flame of Barbary Coast Beulah – Flaxen's Maid Alternative title: Flame of the Barbary Coast
1945 Mildred Pierce Lottie – Mildred's Maid Uncredited
1946 Duel in the Sun Vashti Alternative title: King Vidor's Duel in the Sun
1948 Killer Diller Butterfly
1950 Studio One Episode: "Give Us Our Dream"
1950 to 1953 Beulah Oriole 4 episodes
1951 Lux Video Theatre Mary Episode: "Weather for Today"
1957 Hallmark Hall of Fame Episode: "The Green Pastures"
1970 The Phynx Herself
1974 Amazing Grace Clarine
1978 ABC Weekend Special Aunt Thelma Episode: "The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody"
1979 ABC Afterschool Special Aunt Thelma Episode: "Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid"
1981 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Television movie
1985 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Blind Negress Television movie
1986 The Mosquito Coast Ma Kennywick
1988 The Making of a Legend: Gone With The Wind Herself (Interview) Television documentary
1989 Polly Miss Priss Television movie

References[change | change source]

  1. JM Appel234. Butterfly McQueen. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Jan. 1 2000.
  2. Hubbard Burns, Diane (1980-02-08). "Butterfly McQueen's a Character". The Palm Beach Post. p. B1. Retrieved 23 November 2012.[permanent dead link]
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Butterfly McQueen, 84, 'Gone With the Wind' Actress, Dies From Burns". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 89 (9): 60. 1996-01-15. ISSN 0021-5996.
  4. "The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody" – via www.imdb.com.
  5. Edward T. James (2004). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. Sicherman, Barbara; Wilson James, Janet; Boyer, Paul S.; Ware, Susan. Harvard University Press. pp. 438. ISBN 0-674-01488-X.
  6. Place, John (1983-07-13). "Butterfly McQueen Wins $60,000". The Pittsburgh Press. p. A2. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  7. Alvarez, Lizette (1995-12-23). "Butterfly McQueen Dies at 84; Played Scarlett O'Hara's Maid". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-14.
  8. Suman, Michael (1997). Religion and Prime Time Television. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 22. ISBN 0-275-96034-X.

Other websites[change | change source]