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Pearl White, 1916
|Born||Pearl Fay White
March 4, 1889
Green Ridge, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||August 4, 1938
|Cause of death||Cirrhosis|
|Resting place||Cimetière de Passy|
|Spouse(s)||Victor Sutherland (m. 1907–14)
Wallace McCutcheon, Jr. (m. 1919–20)
Pearl Fay White (March 4, 1889 – August 4, 1938) was an American film actress. White began her career on the stage at the age of six. She later moved on to silent film appearing in a number of popular serials.
Dubbed the "Queen of the serials", White was noted for doing the majority of her own stunts in several film serials, most notably in The Perils of Pauline.
White was born in New Jersey, to her parents Edgar and Inez White. She had four brothers and sisters. The family later moved to Springfield, Missouri. At age 6, she made her stage debut as "Little Eva" in Uncle Tom's Cabin. When she was 13 years-old, White worked as a bareback rider for the circus.
She began performing with the Diemer Theater Company, located on Commercial Street, while in her second year of high school. In 1907, at age 18, she went on the road with the Trousedale Stock Company, working evening shows while keeping her day job to help support her family. She was soon able to join the company full-time, touring through the American Midwest. That year she married fellow actor Victor Sutherland, but they soon separated and eventually divorced in 1914.
White played minor roles for several years, when she was spotted by the Powers Film Company in New York. She claimed she had also performed in Cuba for a time under the name Miss Mazee, singing American songs in a dance hall. Her travels as a singer took her to South America, where she performed in casinos and dance halls. In 1910, White had trouble with her throat, and her voice began to fail from the nightly theatrical performances. She made her debut in films that year, starring in a series of one-reel dramas and comedies for the Powers Film Company in the Bronx, New York.
In 1910, White was offered a role by Pathé Frères in The Girl From Arizona, the French company's first American film produced at their new studio in Bound Brook, New Jersey. She then worked at Lubin Studios and several other of the independents, until the Crystal Film Company in Manhattan gave her top billing in a number of short films.
In 1914, Pathé director Louis J. Gasnier offered her the starring role in The Perils of Pauline, a film based on a story by playwright Charles W. Goddard. The film was one where "Pauline" was the central character in a story involving considerable action, which the athletic Pearl White proved ideally suited for. The Perils of Pauline consisted of twenty episodes. A box-office success, the movie made White a major celebrity, and she was soon earning the then astronomical sum of $3,000 a week. She followed this with an even bigger box-office winner, The Exploits of Elaine.
Flying airplanes, racing cars, swimming across rivers, and doing other similar feats, White made four more successful serials on the same theme. She did much of her own stunt work and she suffered injuries that would force her to use a stunt double in her later films.
Personal life and later years
Pearl White was a wealthy young woman when in 1919 she met and married World War I veteran Major Wallace McCutcheon, Jr. (1880–1928), an actor, director, and cinematographer. However, the marriage failed and they divorced in 1921. Two years later, White made her last American film.
Influenced by her French friends from Pathé Studios, White was drawn to the artistic gathering in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris. While living there, she made her last film for her friend, Belgian-born director Edward José, who had directed her in several serials. Silent films could be made in any country, and as White was a recognizable star worldwide, she was offered many roles in France. Instead, she chose to perform on stage in a Montmartre production "Tu Perds la Boule" (You Lose the Ball). In 1925 she accepted an offer to star with comedian Max Wall in the "London Review" at the Lyceum Theatre in London.
White's childhood poverty made her frugal with money. A shrewd businesswoman, she invested in a successful Parisian nightclub, a Biarritz resort hotel/casino, and a profitable stable of thoroughbred race horses. Living in a fashionable town house in the exclusive Parisian suburb of Passy, she also owned a villa in Rambouillet. She became involved with Theodore Cossika, a Greek businessman who shared her love of travel. Together they purchased a home near Cairo, Egypt, and White travelled with him throughout the Middle East and the Orient. White then returned to France. She made just one more film, Terror (1924).
She starred in several popular stage reviews at the Montmartre Music Hall in Paris, and was in a London revue with George Carney. She then retired from performing.
Alcoholism and death
Over the years, White's alcohol use had increased, possibly in response to the chronic pain of injuries from her film stunts. She had to be hospitalized in 1933, which led to an addiction to the drugs used to ease her suffering. Her last years were spent in an alcoholic haze, and she died of cirrhosis at age 49 on August 4, 1938 in the American Hospital in the Paris suburb of Neuilly, France. She was buried in the Cimetière de Passy.
Pearl White's place in film history is important in both the evolution of cinema genres and the role of women. The Perils of Pauline is only known to exist in a reduced nine-reel version released in Europe in 1916, but The Exploits of Elaine survives and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. All of her films were made at East Coast studios, and it is believed White never visited Hollywood, which would nevertheless honor her contributions with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
|1910||The Horse Shoer's Girl|
|1910||The New Magdalene|
|1910||The Woman Hater|
|1911||An Unforeseen Complication||The Professor's Daughter|
|1911||The Stepsisters||The Stepmother's Spoiled Daughter|
|1912||The Mad Lover||Ethel Marion|
|1912||The Spendthrift's Reform||The Wife|
|1913||Pearl as a Detective||Pearl|
|1913||The Paper Doll||Alice Wilson|
|1914||The Perils of Pauline||Pauline||Serial|
|1914||The Exploits of Elaine||Elaine Dodge||Serial|
|1915||The New Exploits of Elaine||Elaine Dodge||Serial|
|1915||The Romance of Elaine||Elaine Dodge||Serial|
|1916||Hazel Kirke||Hazel Kirke|
|1916||The Iron Claw||Margery Golden||Serial|
|1916||Pearl of the Army||Pearl Date||Serial|
|1917||Mayblossom||Anabel Lee||Blum, Daniel; incorrectly lists as a 1912 film, illustrated with beautiful still of Pearl and Hal Forde in "Pictorial History of the Silent Film"|
|1917||The Fatal Ring||Violet Standish||Serial|
|1918||The House of Hate||Pearl Grant||Serial|
|1919||The Lightning Raider||The Lightning Raider||Serial|
|1919||The Black Secret||Evelyn Ereth|
|1920||The White Moll||Rhoda, The White Moll|
|1920||The Thief||Mary Vantyne|
|1921||Know Your Men||Ellen Schuyler|
|1921||A Virgin Paradise||Gratia Latham|
|1922||The Broadway Peacock||Myrtle May|
|1922||Without Fear||Ruth Hamilton|
|1924||Perils of Paris||Hélène Aldrich||Serial|
- Menefee, David W. (2004). The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era. Connecticut: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-98259-9.
- Lahue, Kalton C. (1971). Ladies in Distress. New York: A. S. Barnes and Co. ISBN 0-498-07634-2.
- Fletcher, Adelle Whitely (February 1921). "Reconsidering Pearl". Motion Picture Magazine.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pearl White.|
- Pearl White at the Internet Movie Database
- Pearl White at AllRovi
- Pearl White at the TCM Movie Database