You are watching: I don t know nothing about birthing babies
Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems; we are continuing to work to improve these archived versions.
Butterfly McQueen, the actress best remembered for her portrayal of Prissy in "Gone With the Wind," the vexing slave girl who confounded Scarlett O'Hara with the tearful pronouncement, "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies, Miss Scarlett," died yesterday. She was 84 years old.
Earlier in the day, Ms. McQueen was critically burned when a kerosene heater in her one-bedroom cottage just outside Augusta, Ga., caught fire. She suffered burns over 70 percent of her body and died at Augusta Regional Medical Center.
After appearing in the Civil War epic "Gone With the Wind" in 1939, Ms. McQueen's voice, squeaky and high-pitched, became her most remarked-upon characteristic, prompting one critic to describe it as a "clarinet with a cold" and another to comment that it was an "itsy-little voice fading over the far horizon of comprehension."
Although Ms. McQueen's role as Prissy earned her fame, it also brought her criticism in later years from people who considered the role stereotypical and demeaning.
"You know, today they call me an Uncle Thomasina," she said in 1970.
But Ms. McQueen, who devoted her later years to serving the African-American community, said she also felt it necessary to acknowledge the history of black slavery in the United States.
"As I look back on "Gone with the Wind," for instance, I feel it is useful to have this authenticity," she once said. "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 want to do."
Born Thelma McQueen in Tampa, Fla., daughter of a housekeeper and a stevedore, Ms. McQueen first developed a fondness for acting as a child, when she would recite whole books of the Bible at home.
"All I knew as a child was church, church, church," she said.
When her parents separated, Ms. McQueen moved with her mother to Augusta, Ga., and then to New York City. As a teen-ager, she attended high school in Babylon, L.I., and later moved to Harlem.
After a brief stint in nursing school, Ms. McQueen pursued her acting career in earnest, finding that the stage was much more exciting than a hospital. Her first break came in 1937 when George Abbott offered her a role in "Brown Sugar." The show was a flop, but Ms. McQueen signed on as a permanent member of the Abbott Acting Company.
It was during her years with the acting company that a friend dubbed her "Butterfly," after Ms. McQueen told her she had once danced a butterfly ballet in a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Soon after, Mr. Abbott tailored a role for her in "What a Life," which she played on Broadway. One evening, during an intermission in Philadelphia, she received a contract from her agency for Prissy, a role she was initially rejected for after a talent scout called her too chubby. She received the good news with some reservation.
"I'd just come from a modern up-to-date integrated school in 'What a Life' and I couldn't understand why they'd want to bring back the 1800s," Ms. McQueen said. "Most of my friends were progressive, going forward and looking forward. It was depressing for me."
Despite the success of "Gone With The Wind," Ms. McQueen found it increasingly difficult to find work in film and theater. She appeared in the films "Mildred Pierce" and "The Women," and on several radio shows. In 1951, she put on a one-woman show at Carnegie Hall, but she soon found she had to take on other jobs to support herself. During the 1950's, she worked as a companion for a woman in Long Island and sold toys at Macy's. At one time, she began her own radio show in Augusta, "to instill pride in the neighborhood," she said.
In 1966, still unable to find work as an actress, Ms. McQueen wrote a letter to a Georgia congressman asking him for help in getting a job.
But it was upon her return to Harlem one year later that she found a second vocation -- helping her community. She plunged into antipoverty work and took a job as a waitress in a soul food restaurant.
Fond of children, she worked at the Mount Morris Park Recreation Center as a receptionist. Her distinctive voice could be heard through the corridors as she gave tap dance and ballet lessons. She defined herself at the time through her commitment to the "black family," she said.
See more: 2010 Chrysler Town And Country Dash Warning Lights, Cargurus Logo Homepage Link
Ever restless and determined, Ms. McQueen, who had never completed college, graduated with a degree in political science from City College in 1975 at the age of 64.