Nina Mae McKinney (June 13, 1913 – May 3, 1967) was an American actress. Dubbed “The Black Garbo”, she was one of the first African-American film stars and was one of the first African-Americans to appear on British television, featuring in the demonstration film broadcast each morning for the benefit of installers and engineers.
Born Nannie Mayme McKinney in Lancaster, South Carolina, Nina Mae was indeed “The First Black Movie Star,” the first black actress in starring roles who appeared in over 30 films (more than Horne or Dandridge), some films are considered lost, some are not as available to the public. McKinney moved to New York when she was a teenager and began her career performing as a dancer. She was spotted dancing in Blackbirds of 1928 by the director King Vidor and cast in the lead role of Hallelujah!, one of the first all-black films by a major studio and Vidor’s first sound film, for which he was nominated for the best director Oscar in 1930. In the film, McKinney dances the “Swanee Shuffle”, a seductive dance which became a minor fashion. After Hallelujah! McKinney signed a five year contract with MGM, however, the studio seemed reluctant to star her in feature films. Her most notable roles during this period were in films for other studios, including a leading role in Sanders of the River (1935), made in the UK, where she appears with Paul Robeson. After MGM cut almost all her scenes in Reckless (1935) she left Hollywood for Europe where she acted and danced, appearing mostly in theatrical shows and cabaret. She returned to the United States at the start of World War II where she married Jimmy Monroe, a jazz musician. After the war she moved to Athens, Greece and lived there until she returned to New York in 1960.
All of this good stuff just buried and left to be forgotten about. I’ve never heard of her…so thanks for sharing 🙂
i hadn’t heard of her either. it’s a shame!
I love movies and am very interested in racial issues relating to movies specifically and arts & media generally. I’d not heard of Nina Mae McKinney before, but now you have brought our attention to her I can look into her career more. Lots of other interesting info in the post too. Fascinating. Thanks.
Nina Mae McKinney appeared in some mainstream films and in “race” films. The ones shown in churches and black theatres down south. My grandfather took my dad to see her in a film when he was a little boy. She was to black men of the 1930’s what Lena Horne was to black men of the 1940’s the glamorous hollywood beauty. There are many women over looked from this era like Freddi Washington, Isabel Washington and Ethel Waters. There were also others who found more fame in Europe than here at home like Josephine Baker. There were some who gained fame by keeping their racial heritage a secret like Carol Channing.