But in the end, she would be remembered for something else again.
White, as seen in Reefer Madness
(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.
Early life and careerBorn 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
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
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."
Entertaining troopsDuring World War II, White joined United Servicemen Overseas, a
White later worked as an agent, representing such actors as Robert Blake and James Coburn.
DeathWhite'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.
|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|
|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|
|1944||Bowery Champs||Diane Gibson|
|1948||Mary Lou||Eve Summers|
- Woo, Elaine (2005-01-15). "Thelma White, at 94; starred in campy 'Reefer Madness'". boston.com. http://www.boston.com/news/globe/obituaries/articles/2005/01/15/thelma_white_at_94_starred_in_campy_reefer_madness/. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
- "Obituaries". BackStage. 2005-01-20. http://www.allbusiness.com/services/amusement-recreation-services/4589511-1.html. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
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Thelma White and Marjorie White used to work together as "The White Sisters", but were not actually related: neither were they related to Alice White, as was sometimes thought.
In the movies, Thelma White was teamed with Fanny Watson as a "female Laurel and Hardy", in a series of films at the Vitaphone studio in the early thirties. Most of these were directed by Alf Goulding, who was a friend of Stan Laurel's.
Thelma White, center (sitting on partner Fanny Watson's lap) being directed by Alf Goulding, far left, in a 1932 Brooklyn Vitaphone short.
There was some overlap in the Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts series and the Thelma White and Fanny Watson series, but the Thelma Todd series appears to have been first and lasted longer, eventually replacing first Zasu Pitts with Patsy Kelly and then Thelma Todd with Pert Kelton and Lyda Roberti.
But the Vitaphone short subjects in general seem to have been popular in their day.
While REEFER MADNESS probably is what Thelma White is most remembered for, I don't know if it's ever been run on television here, while her musical films with the all-girl orchestra have. And maybe it's time to give some of Thelma White's other work a little recognition.
She also mentioned Patsy Kelly in her autobiography. According to "The Vitaphone Project" site, after Thelma White's recovery she was Patsy Kelly's manager.
Film clip from 1929 MGM musical.
TAKE IT AND GIT
Thelma White Obituary: