Robb White III|
June 20, 1909
Baguio, Luzon, Philippines
November 24, 1990 (aged 81)|
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.
|Subject||Maritime, World War II|
The Lion's Paw,|
Our Virgin Island,
|Spouse||Rosalie "Rodie" Mason, Joan Gannon, Alice White|
Robb White III (June 20, 1909 – November 24, 1990) was an American writer of screenplays, television scripts, and adventure novels. Most of the latter had a maritime setting, often the Pacific Navy during World War II. White was best known for juvenile fiction, though he has proven popular with adults as well. Nearly all his books are out of print; nevertheless, White has a devoted following among baby boomers, many of whom were introduced to him through inexpensive paperbacks available in American schools in the mid-20th century.
Schools and schooners
Robb White III was born to Episcopal missionaries in Baguio, Luzon, in the Philippines. At the time, White's father was working with the Igorots, though he later became an Army chaplain, and thus the young family—including Robb's brother and two sisters—traveled extensively before settling in Thomasville, Georgia.
On a 1958 episode of the television show This Is Your Life, White's sister said that "young Bob was the proverbial minister's son, a rebel against all rules and full of deviltry"—as exemplified when the boy rolled eggs off the roof onto a Ladies' Auxiliary meeting on the front lawn.
White had no formal education before entering the Episcopal High School in New York City, New York. He later attended the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduated as an ensign in 1931, and then worked briefly as a draftsman and construction engineer for DuPont.
In his 1953 memoir, Our Virgin Island, White says that by 1937 he "had been halfway round the world and back" and "sailed a schooner around the Atlantic for six months." During his stint on a Boston-based "floating school" with only one student, White one night swam ashore from two miles out after the schooner was crippled in a December storm.
Their virgin island
In 1937, White married Rosalie "Rodie" Mason. The couple settled in Sea Cows Bay on the island of Tortola, where the insects were so severe that White put his typewriter in a boat and wrote in the middle of the bay each day. The pair spent weeks sailing daily throughout the islands in search of a more suitable home.
One afternoon, after landing on what they thought was large and better-known Great Camanoe, White walked off in one direction along the beach and Rodie in the other. Meeting less than half an hour later, they realized they had landed on a tiny island, 8-acre (3.2 ha) Marina Cay, which they quickly purchased for $60.
The Whites spent three years on Marina, hacking a cistern out of the rough, rocky land and shipping in enough concrete to build a small, sturdy house. These adventurous years, during which the couple weathered a hurricane, fended off a Nazi skipper, aided Jewish refugees, and survived a surprise visit from White's mother-in-law, are detailed in his memoirs, In Privateer's Bay (1939), Our Virgin Island (1953), and Two on the Isle (1985).
White was recalled to military duty when World War II broke out; he flew as a pilot, fought near his birthplace in the Battle of Leyte Gulf (1944), and served on battleships, submarines, and aircraft carriers. He earned eight medals and retired with the rank of lieutenant commander after five years of service.
At the same time as White's recall, he and Rodie lost Marina Cay. The British government had never issued them a license to hold the land and now formally refused, stating that White's published writings had misrepresented conditions in the British Virgin Islands.
Today, the house Robb and Rodie built serves as the reading lounge for a modest-sized resort on the island.
"A writer's writer"
White was determined to be a writer from the age of 13. While working for DuPont, he returned home each day and wrote from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. In 1931, he quit DuPont after selling his first story to The American Boy for $100.
"A writer's writer, White truly lived his trade". He produced numerous articles and stories for The Saturday Evening Post, Reader's Digest, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, and Boys' Life, as well as the United States Naval Institute's Proceedings and various risqué publications; as he told interviewer Tom Weaver, "I wrote as a woman for True Stories and got raped in a hayloft about once a month"
White also wrote for television, including Men of Annapolis and The Silent Service (both 1957), plus episodes of Perry Mason (1961–1965). In the late 1950s and early 1960s he teamed with horror film director William Castle, best known for gimmicks such as a free "ghost viewer" and a vibrating electrical device mounted beneath the theater seats.
Despite all this, White is best known for his 24 novels. The early Run Masked (1938) was White's only effort at a work of adult-themed literature. Most of his books are adventure stories aimed at younger readers — including The Lion's Paw (1946), Deathwatch (1972), Up Periscope (1956) (filmed with James Garner in 1959), Flight Deck (1961), Torpedo Run (1962), and The Survivor (1964). The last four of these—and many others—are set in the same Pacific Theater where White served during World War II. Others—Lion's Paw, plus the rarer Sail Away (1948), Three Against the Sea (1940), and Smuggler's Sloop (1937)—feature youthful protagonists working together against the elements.
"White is on record saying that young people appreciate his work most. He attributed this to their good, decent and courageous nature, exactly the kind of people about whom he enjoyed writing. White confided to Something About the Author that he liked stories that dealt with ordinary people who survived in the face of terrible hardship ... White's work is typically hero-driven, a characteristic that emerges most clearly in Deathwatch, where the protagonist battles not only his human persecutor, but the impersonal harshness of the American desert ... "
Several of his novels were popularized in the school-based Scholastic book-sale program in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s; now out of print, these 50-cent paperbacks currently sell for up to $50 on the Internet; rarer White hardbacks can fetch ten times that amount.
To the delight of White fans everywhere, in October 2008, a facsimile edition of The Lion's Paw was published by A. W. INK, a private company run by White's widow, Annie, and her daughter; it includes the same front panel of the dust jacket as the original 1946 edition, along with the novel's original illustrations by Ralph Ray. This long-unavailable book can now be readily purchased at a variety of Internet sites.
- White was a member of the 1950 Harvard anthropological expedition to the Middle East
- Robb and Rodie White divorced in 1964; they had three children—Robb, Barbara, and June.
- Robb White IV (1941–2006) was a well-known Georgia boat-builder and author of How to Build a Tin Canoe: Confessions of an Old Salt (2003).
- June, better known as Bailey White, is a commentator for NPR and author of Mama Makes Up Her Mind (1993), Sleeping at the Starlight Motel (1995), and Quite a Year for Plums (1998). In her audio book "Ostrich Farmer and Other Stories", Bailey reminisces about her father's movie career in her story "Father's Feet".
- In the mid-1960s, White married Joan Gannon, a Beverly Hills, California stockbroker. According to the Laurel Leaf paperback edition of Deathwatch—the only White book still in print—he was married to Mrs. Alice White at the time of his death in 1990.
- He lived in Thomasville, Georgia, where he and Rodie settled after returning from the Caribbean, in Malibu and Montecito, California, England, Ireland, Scotland, the West Indies and the French Riviera, as well as Lake Havasu City, Arizona—the setting for Deathwatch.
White died in 1990 as a result of head injuries suffered in a car accident.
- 1937 New York Herald Tribune prize for best older boys' book of the year, Smuggler's Sloop
- 1972 ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults, Deathwatch
- 1972 New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year, Deathwatch
- 1973 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery of the Year, Deathwatch
Some of White's works have been adapted to motion pictures.
- Our Virgin Island was filmed as Virgin Island in 1958; it starred John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, and Ruby Dee
- Up Periscope was directed by Gordon Douglas in 1959, with James Garner, Edmond O'Brien, Frank Gifford, and Edd Byrnes
- Deathwatch was made for television as Savages in 1974; it featured Andy Griffith as the villain
- The 2015 thriller Beyond the Reach, starring Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irvine and Ronny Cox, was a revamped and updated version of Deathwatch
- White, Robb, "The Most Unforgettable Character I've Met", Reader's Digest Magazine, July 1953, p. 102.
- White, Robb, Our Virgin Island (New York: Doubleday, 1953), p. 15.
- White 1953, p. 53.[incomplete short citation]
- "Robb White Papers". de Grummond Children's Literature Collection. The University of Southern Mississippi. July 2001. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
- Weaver, Tom, Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Producers and Writers of the 1940s through 1960s (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 1991), p. 425.
- Klinkenberg, Jeff, "The Lion's Paw", St. Petersburg Times, November 9, 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-10
- "House on Haunted Hill (1999)". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-09-24.
Also, "13 Ghosts (2001)". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-09-24.