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Butterfly McQueen

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: Cast ... actor radio host receptionist waitress companion sales person
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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 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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