Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Nina Mae McKinney -One of the 1st African-American Film Stars in the U.S and British TV
Nina Mae McKinney was an American actress who worked internationally during the 1930s and in the postwar period in theatre, film and television, after getting her start on Broadway and in Hollywood. Dubbed "The Black Garbo" in Europe because of her striking beauty, McKinney was one of the 1st African-American film stars in the United States, as well as one of the 1st African Americans to appear on British television. McKinney was born in 1912 in the small town of Lancaster, South Carolina, to Georgia and Hal McKinney. Her parents moved to New York and left their young daughter with her Aunt Carrie. McKinney ran errands for her aunt and learned to ride a bike. She soon was performing stunts on bikes, where her passion for acting was obvious. She acted in school plays in Lancaster and taught herself to dance. McKinney left school at the age of 15 and moved to New York to pursue acting, where she was reunited with her parents. Her debut on Broadway was dancing in a chorus line of the hit musical Blackbirds of 1928. This show starred Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Adelaide Hall. Looking for a star in his upcoming movie, Hallelujah!, the Hollywood film director King Vidor spotted McKinney in the chorus line of Blackbirds. In Hallelujah (1929), McKinney was the 1st African-American actress to hold a principal role in a mainstream film; it had an African-American cast. After Hallelujah!, McKinney signed a five-year contract with MGM; she was the 1st African-American actor to sign a long-term contract with a major studio. Although McKinney was strikingly beautiful, Hollywood was afraid to make her into a glamorized icon like white actresses of the time. In Europe McKinney was nicknamed the “Black Garbo,” because of her striking beauty. In 1978, McKinney received a posthumous award from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame for her lifetime achievement. A portrait of McKinney is displayed in her hometown of Lancaster, South Carolina, at the courthouse’s "Wall of Fame."