NINA MAE MCKINNEY BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY:
Nina Mae McKinney was born on June 12th, 1912 in Lancaster, South Carolina with the birth name Nannie Mayme McKinney, born to Hal and Georgia McKinney. Nina later excelled not only as a actress but also as singer and dancer and was able to overcome some of the difficulties of being a beautiful black woman in the entertainment industry during her era.
Nina was raised by her aunt in Lancaster up until the age of thirteen. It was during her childhood years that she began to develop an interest in acting and taught herself how to dance as well as perform stunts on her bicycle. When she turned thirteen, she relocated to New York to live with her mother in hopes of working in the entertainment industry. Nina was to find work on Broadway as part of the chorus for the production, "Blackbirds".
It was this experience that actually helped her break into the film industry. An MGM producer by the name of King Vidor took notice of her talents and chose to cast her in the film, "Hallelujah" (1929), a first all black sound musical.
She was then signed to a contract with MGM but only made two additional films with them, "Safe in Hell" (1931) and "Reckless" (1935) starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Franchot Tone and Rosalind Russell, however both films although she received credit, she was not even visible on screen.
McKinney had such physical beauty and charm that Hollywood actually made it more difficult for her to reach the level of success that other white female actresses were able to achieve. Majority of Black actresses normally portrayed the parts of maids and Nina's appearance did not fit that profile.
Nina at one point spent a majority of her time overseas in such places as Budapest, London, Paris and Dublin where she became know as the "Black Garbo" since she resembled the beauty of Swedish actress, Greta Garbo. Nina continued to find work in the United States and overseas adding such film roles to her resume in, "Sanders of the River" (1935) starring with Paul Robeson, "The Lonely Trail" (1936) starring John Wayne and Ann Rutherford, "Gang Smashers" (1938) starring with Lawrence Criner, Mantan Moreland, Monte Hawley and Reginald Federson, "Dark Waters" (1944) starring Merle Oberon, Franchot Tone, Fay Banter, Elisha Cook Jr., John Qualen and Thomas Mitchell, "Danger Street" (1947) starring Jane Withers, Robert Lowery, Lyle Talbot and Bill Edwards and "Pinky" (1949) starring Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore, Ethel Waters, William Lundigan and Arthur Hunnicutt.
Along with her small amount of film roles she also enjoyed performing live and was seen numerous times at the Apollo Theater, an all black theater in Harlem. Later in her career she relocated to live in Athen's Greece for a while and earned the nickname, 'The Queen of Night Life'.
Even though Nina's name is not commonly remembered by many, she was a beautiful and talented actress who was never really given her full chance to shine in the spotlight. She did tour the country with the band she put together with her husband, Jimmy Monroe who was a jazz musician. Her last stage performance was in 1951 in a production of, "Rain".
Nina Mae McKinney passed away at the age of fifty three, on May 3rd, 1967 in New York City, New York after suffering from a heart attack. In 1978, she received the posthumous award from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame for her lifetime achievement.
1950 Copper Canyon
1947 Danger Street
1946 Night Train to Memphis
1946 Mantan Messes Up
1945 The Power of the Whistler
1944 Together Again
1944 Dark Waters
1939 Straight to Heaven
1939 The Devil's Daughter
1938 Gang Smashers
1936 The Lonely Trail
1935 Sanders of the River
1934 Kentucky Minstrels
1932 Passing the Buck
1932 Pie, Pie Blackbird
1931 Safe in Hell
1930 They Learned About Women