Thelma White

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Thelma White
Thelma White as Mae Coleman.png
White, as seen in Reefer Madness
Born Thelma Wolpa
(1910-12-04)December 4, 1910
Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.
Died January 11, 2005(2005-01-11) (aged 94)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1930–1948

Thelma White (December 4, 1910 – January 11, 2005) was an American radio and film actress. White is best known for her role in the 1936 exploitation film Reefer Madness.

Early life and career[edit]

Born Thelma Wolpa in Lincoln, Nebraska, White debuted in her family's circus show at age 2, acting as a "living doll" who would stand in place until she got a cue to begin cooing and wriggling. At the age of 10 she was dancing in vaudeville as part of The White Sisters, leading to jobs with the Ziegfeld Follies and Earl Carroll revue before she moved to Hollywood in the late 1920s. Her first film was A Night in a Dormitory (1930) co-starring Ginger Rogers. That job led to a number of short films at Pathé Exchange (later RKO Pictures), where she played leading lady to some of the most familiar comic faces of the day, such as Edgar Kennedy and Leon Errol.

White's most famous role arrived in Tell Your Children (1936) better known today as Reefer Madness, a low-budget exploitation film to warn audiences of the dangers of marijuana. White appeared as Mae, the tough mistress of dope-dealer Jack (Carleton Young). Jack encourages high school students to take a toke of marijuana, after which they become involved in rape, prostitution, suicide, and various other traumas. The film was a flop and vanished into the vaults for over 30 years.

White continued to struggle through B-movies and small roles for the next few years, and in Hollywood circles was more known for her private life than any on-camera abilities. She was married three times, first to radio star Claude Stroud (one of the Stroud twins) for five years, then a brief marriage to Max Hoffman, Jr. Her final marriage, to actor and costume designer Tony Millard, lasted for several decades.

Tell Your Children was found in a vault in 1972 and rechristened Reefer Madness by pro-marijuana activists and a young movie distributor who saw the movie as having great comedic appeal. The film gained a following on college campuses for its campy nature as well as its crazed depiction of marijuana use. White, who had starred with W. C. Fields and Jack Benny in her best years, was somewhat chagrined to be known for such a film. In 1987, she told the Los Angeles Times, "I'm ashamed to say that it's the only one of my films that's become a classic."[1]

Entertaining troops[edit]

During World War II, White joined United Servicemen Overseas, a government program which featured entertainment for troops serving overseas, and performed as the leader of an all female swing band called Thelma White and Her All Girl Orchestra. She and her band went to Alaska on several occasions with Rose Hobart and Carmen Miranda. She continued to make appearances in B-movies such as The Bowery Boys film series, but near the end of the war contracted a crippling disease while appearing in the Aleutian Islands. White was bedridden for five years and told she would never walk again. Although she did partially recover and appeared in a few late 40's films, her acting career was essentially over.

White later worked as an agent, representing such actors as Robert Blake and James Coburn.

Death[edit]

White's third husband, Tony Millard, died in 1999. She had no children, and spent most of her time with her Mexican Hairless Dogs. White died of pneumonia in the Motion Picture and Television Hospital on January 11, 2005 at age 94.[2]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1930 A Night in a Dormitory Thelma
1930 Ride 'em Cowboy Alternative title: Pathé Folly Comedies: Ride 'em Cowboy
1930 Sixteen Sweeties Alternative title: Pathé Melody Comedies: Sixteen Sweeties
1931 One Way Out Desperate for Permanent Wave
1931 Hot Sands Wife
1933 Hey, Nanny Nanny Mrs. Bond
1934 What Price Jazz
1934 Susie's Affairs Susie's Blonde Roommate
1935 Never Too Late Helen Lloyd Alternative title: It's Never Too Late to Mend
1936 Reefer Madness Mae Alternative title: Tell Your Children
1936 Two in the Dark Woman Uncredited
1936 The Moon's Our Home Salesgirl
1936 Forgotten Faces Nurse in park
1938 Wanted by the Police Lillian
1942 Syncopation Singer on Piano at Party Uncredited
1942 A Man's World Dancehall girl Uncredited
1942 Pretty Dolly Baby, Cigar Counter Clerk
1943 Spy Train Millie
1944 Bowery Champs Diane Gibson
1947 Hectic Honeymoon
1948 Mary Lou Eve Summers

References[edit]

  1. ^ Woo, Elaine (2005-01-15). "Thelma White, at 94; starred in campy 'Reefer Madness'". boston.com. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  2. ^ "Obituaries". BackStage. 2005-01-20. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 

External links[edit]