I Passed for White

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I Passed for White
I Passed for White.jpg
theatrical poster to I Passed for White
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
Produced by Fred M. Wilcox
Written by Fred M. Wilcox
Based on novel by Reba Lee as told to Mary Hastings Bradley
Starring Sonya Wilde
James Franciscus
Music by Jerry Irvin
John Williams
Cinematography George J. Folsey
Edited by George White
Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures
Release date
  • March 18, 1960 (1960-03-18) (US)
Running time
93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,700,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

I Passed for White is a 1960 film directed and adapted for the screen by Fred M. Wilcox from a novel of the same name by Reba Lee "as told to" Mary Hastings Bradley. The film stars Sonya Wilde, James Franciscus and features Jimmy Lydon, Patricia Michon, and Isabel Cooley. It was released by Allied Artists on March 18, 1960.


Bernice Lee (Sonya Wilde) is a young woman of mixed African and European ancestry, living in Chicago with her family, who is mistaken for a purely white woman by a white man, who tries to hit on her repeatedly. Her brother, more obviously of mixed heritage, fights off the man. Bernice's grandmother consoles her when she confides her troubles.

After a failed attempt at looking for employment as a black woman, she decides to leave town. She begins to use the name Lila Brownell and live as a white woman. On the plane to New York City she meets and eventually marries the man of her dreams – Rick Leyton (James Franciscus) – and fails to mention her African ancestry, an important omission as miscegenation is not a constitutional right in 1960. James and his wealthy family and friends are white. Her white friend Sally (Patricia Michon), and black maid Bertha (Isabel Cooley) both advise her not to tell him. She becomes pregnant, and fears the child will have black features or coloring – and gets a book to read about this unlikely possibility, which she hides. Rick eventually discovers it and their maid claims the book belongs to her.

Lila goes into premature labor and has a stillborn child, but cries out "Is the baby black?" after she awakens from anesthesia. This leads Rick to suspect that his wife has been unfaithful. Eventually, she and her husband divorce without Bernice ever having revealed her true name or past. She then returns to her family in Chicago and her original identity.


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  1. ^ "Rental Potentials of 1960", Variety, 4 January 1961 p 47. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.

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