BUTTERFLY MCQUEEN (1911-1995) was a successful Broadway dancer and stage & screen actress.
Thelma McQueen was born in Tampa, Florida, on January 8, 1911. She got the name Butterfly after appearing in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which she danced in the butterfly ballet.
She entered films in 1939 with roles in Gone with the Wind in which she played Prissy, Scarlett O’Hara’s maid. Around this time, McQueen also modeled for the Mrs. Butterworth bottle. Over the next few years she played small roles often as a maid, a role she also played in Jack Benny’s radio show.
“I didn’t mind playing a maid the first time, because I thought that was how you got into the business. But after I did the same thing over and over, I resented it. I didn’t mind being funny, but I didn’t like being stupid,” she once remarked.
By 1947, she had grown tired of the ethnic stereotypes she was required to play and ended her film career. Her move to television in the series Beulah from 1950 until 1952 required her to play the same type of role. Her acting roles after this were few, and in 1975, McQueen graduated from New York City College in 1975 with a degree in political science. She was 64. In 1979, McQueen won a Daytime Emmy award for her performance as Aunt Thelma, a fairy godmother in the ABC After School Special, Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid.
In later years, she lived in New York in the summer and Georgia in the winter. She liked to ride a bicycle with training wheels around the neighborhood, was a health food advocate and usually lunched at the Belle Terrace Senior Center, where she played and sang from an impressive repertoire of classical music, jazz and show tunes.
In 1995, her home in Augusta, Georgia, caught fire when she was attempting to light a malfunctioned kerosene heater and it burst into flames. Only the blackened floor and roof of her small wooden cottage, built in back of her larger stucco house which she rented out, remained after the fire. Explosions, probably from two five-gallon containers of kerosene kept for two portable heaters, blew out windows and burned half the house down to the studs. McQueen died December 22, and donated her body to medical science and, as a lifelong atheist, left her personal bank account to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
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