Butterfly McQueen, who achieved lasting fame 40 years ago as the slave girl Prissy in "Gone With the Wind," has sued the Greyhound Bus Lines for $300,000, alleging she was detained in the downtown Washington bus terminal and accused of being a pickpocket.
McQueen, now 68 and still active in show business, contends in a suit filed on Friday in D.C. Superior Court that she was waiting at the Greyhound terminal last April 7 for a bus to Tampa, Fla., when two private security guards approached her.
She said the guards accused her of being a "clipper," or pickpocket, and demanded to see her bus ticket.
When she refused to produce her ticket and insisted on seeing the guards' badges, McQueen said, she was pushed to the floor and held until D.C. police officers arrived and released her.
"It was absolutely the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me," McQueen said in a telephone interview from Pittsburgh, where she is appearing this week in a stage production of "Show Boat." The musical is among a number of acting jobs that McQueen said she has lined up to keep her face and her name before the public.
Seconds before the incident, McQueen said, she had been sitting quietly in the ladies lounge eating from a can of mixed nuts.
"I was feeling very pleased with myself," she said in the same high-pitched voice that characterized her role in the 1939 movie that began her entertainment career. "I had just received a very nice award from the D.C. Department of Recreation, and I was on my way to appear on a television talk show in Tampa.
"I was shocked when these two security guards walked into the ladies lounge and told me that I looked like I might clip someone at any minute," McQueen said.
"I told them that they were mistaken and that I was waiting for a bus to Florida. . . . At one point, I was screaming, 'You show me your badge and I'll show you my ticket.' One of the guards finally shoved me to the floor and they called the D.C. police and asked to have me placed under arrest.
"Three officers -- two men and a woman -- showed up.They recognized me right away and told me they were my fans and that I was not going to be arrested." No charges were filed against McQueen and there is no police report on the incident.
After her successful appearance in "Gone With the Wind," McQueen enjoyed a vigorous film career that lasted into the late 1940s, when she had roles in such movies as "The Women," "Cabin in the Sky" and "Duel in the Sun."
In the 1950s, McQueen had roles as a maid or domestic in radio and television programs, but these roles soon dried up, as did her acting career.
She returned to the stage in New York in 1968, when "Gone With the Wind, was re-released as a musical. And she later appeared in the musical "The Wiz" as the "Queen of the Field Mice." For several months McQueen has been touring major cities on the East Coast as a member of the cast of "Show Boat."
McQueen, who lives in New York City, has also appeared frequently on television talk shows.
The suit, filed last Friday against Greyhound Lines Inc. and the International Security Corp. of Arlington, charged that the security guards "had no probable cause" to suspect that McQueen had committed a crime.
"The plaintiff was detained for a lengthy period and subjected to harrassment, intimidation and false accusations," the suit said.
The suit also said that McQueen "enjoyed a good reputation for honesty" prior to the incident, which has cause her to suffer "physical and mental distress and agony as well as injury to her good name and reputation . . ."
Carl Derrick, manager of the Greyhound terminal, said he is not familiar with McQueen's allegation that she was falsely arrested at the terminal last April.
James White, deputy operations officer for International Security, said he was not familiar with the April incident and was unaware of McQueen's suit.
After the incident, in which McQueen said she suffered several bruised ribs, she boarded the bus to Tampa. That night she had worn a scarf around her head and a full-length, brown cotton dress with puffed sleeves, an outfit similar to clothing she wore on the movie set.
"My client is not senile or eccentric," said Florence King, McQueen's attorney. "Many times she still dresses as though she is on her way to appear in 'Gone With the Wind.'
"At the bus terminal she apparently did not look like a celebrity to the security guards," King said."They must have assumed she was an old bag woman and they didn't take the time to find out who she really was."
McQueen said she travels by bus because she has the opportunity to get more rest than she would on a plane and because she can rub elbows with her fans.
"A lot of people at the bus terminals remember me from my movie," she said. "A lot of my fans come up and we talk. They want to know where I've been all these years."