Smith did not realize his name was unusual until classmates stared at him during his first roll call at school. He repeatedly told people his parents chose it because they were so thrilled over his birth. His eight siblings had more conventional names.
At 16, Smith came to Los Angeles and soon became a driver for a family in Hancock Park that insisted he enroll at Fairfax High.
He married three times but had no children. Smith leaves no immediate survivors.
In 1935, he was surprised to find himself riding a streetcar with actress Hattie McDaniel. She told him that she was planning to buy a car but confided that she didn't know how to drive, Watts wrote in "Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood" (2005).
By the time the streetcar ride ended, McDaniel had hired Smith as her part-time chauffeur. He became one of her closest friends and escorted the actress he called "Miss Mac" to the Academy Awards in 1940 when she became the first African American to win an Oscar, for her supporting role as Mammy in "Gone With the Wind."
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rita Dove dramatized the moment in the 2005 poem “Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove”:;jsessionid=1C93AEC4CE598E525A330DD7CA3724BA?poemId=6724
. . . her gloves white, her smile
chastened, purse giddy
with stars and rhinestones clipped to
her brilliantined hair,
on her free arm that fine Negro,
Mr. Wonderful Smith.