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Butterfly McQueen

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Also Known As: Thelma Mcqueen Died: December 22, 1995
Born: January 8, 1911 Cause of Death: complications caused by burns sustained in a kerosene fire
Birth Place: Tampa, Florida, USA Profession: actor, radio host, receptionist, waitress, companion, sales person

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Butterfly McQueen is best remembered as Prissy, the maid with the high squeaky voice who didn't "know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies" in the classic "Gone With the Wind" (1939).Born Thelma McQueen in Tampa, FL, she began her acting career when producer-director George Abbott hired her for the Broadway show "Brown Sugar" in 1937. McQueen became a permanent member of the Abbott Acting Company. During her stint with the company, she gained her famous nickname after dancing a butterfly ballet in a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". She earned her greatest stage recognition in "What a Life" and during its run was offered the role of Prissy. While the part verged on stereotype (a dimwitted slave), McQueen brought a comic pathos to her portrayal. Like many black actors in 1940s Hollywood, McQueen found few challenging roles and was usually relegated to playing domestics. Among her better known films are Vincente Minnelli's "Cabin in the Sky" (1943), Michael Curtiz' "Mildred Pierce" (1945) and King Vidor's "Duel in the Sun" (1947).McQueen effectively retired from acting in the early 1950s. She worked at various jobs including acting as a ladies' companion, selling toys at Macy's and hosting her own...

Butterfly McQueen is best remembered as Prissy, the maid with the high squeaky voice who didn't "know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies" in the classic "Gone With the Wind" (1939).

Born Thelma McQueen in Tampa, FL, she began her acting career when producer-director George Abbott hired her for the Broadway show "Brown Sugar" in 1937. McQueen became a permanent member of the Abbott Acting Company. During her stint with the company, she gained her famous nickname after dancing a butterfly ballet in a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". She earned her greatest stage recognition in "What a Life" and during its run was offered the role of Prissy. While the part verged on stereotype (a dimwitted slave), McQueen brought a comic pathos to her portrayal. Like many black actors in 1940s Hollywood, McQueen found few challenging roles and was usually relegated to playing domestics. Among her better known films are Vincente Minnelli's "Cabin in the Sky" (1943), Michael Curtiz' "Mildred Pierce" (1945) and King Vidor's "Duel in the Sun" (1947).

McQueen effectively retired from acting in the early 1950s. She worked at various jobs including acting as a ladies' companion, selling toys at Macy's and hosting her own radio show in Augusta, GA. In the mid-'60s, McQueen began working as a waitress in Harlem, NY and later as a receptionist at Mount Morris Park Recreation Center where she also taught children tap dancing and ballet. At the age of 64, she earned her bachelor's degree from City College of New York. She made occasional appearances in films and TV specials in the 70s and 80s. Her last feature appearance was in a small role in Peter Weir's underrated "The Mosquito Coast" (1985).

On TV, McQueen appeared regularly during the first season of "Beulah" (CBS, 1950-51) opposite Ethel Waters. She also played small or featured roles in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (PBS, 1986) and in two ABC specials for children, "The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody" (1978) and "The Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid" (1979) which earned her a Daytime Emmy. Her final TV appearance was in the TV remake of "Pollyanna" entitled "Polly" (NBC, 1989). McQueen died in December 1995 from complications caused by burns sustained in a kerosene fire in her Georgia home.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Polly (1989) Miss Priss
3.
 Mosquito Coast, The (1986) Ma Kennywick
4.
 Amazing Grace (1974) Clarine
5.
 The Phynx (1970)
6.
 Killer Diller (1948) Butterfly, his secretary
7.
 Duel in the Sun (1947) Vashti
8.
 Mildred Pierce (1945) Lottie
9.
 Flame of Barbary Coast (1945) Beulah
10.
 I Dood It (1943) Annette
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1911:
Born in Tampa, FL
:
After parents separated, moved with mother first to Augusta, GA and then to NYC
1937:
Broadway acting debut in "Brown Sugar"
1939:
Film acting debut in "Gone With the Wind"
1950:
TV series debut as regular "Beulah" (CBS)
1951:
Retired from acting (date approximate)
1970:
First feature in over twenty years "The Phynx"
1986:
Final film appearance "The Mosquito Coast"
1989:
Final TV appearance "Polly" (NBC)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

City College of New York: New York , New York - 1975

Notes

"As I look back on "Gone With the Wind", for instance, I feel it is useful to have this authenticity. We've got to know more about where we've come from. I wasn't too happy about the whole thing, but also later in life, as I looked around, I decided to take what I could get and then use it for what I wanted to do."--McQueen quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 23, 1995.

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