Few in the classic film fan community know of actress Alice White. I did not know of her myself until I came across a production portrait that drew me into her allure. With her eyes seductively lowered to meet the camera's eyes as she exudes a laid back sex kitten posture on a chase while wearing a sequined dress, White looks timeless and modern, surely to be remembered for years to come. If only she had the chance to become a star, she could have been an icon.
Alice White was born August 24, 1904 in Paterson, New Jersey by the name of Alva White. When she was only a teenager, White's mother passed away and she was sent to live with her grandmother in Hollywood, California. After graduating secretary school, she worked as secretary and "script girl" for director Joseph Von Sternberg of Charles Chaplin Production. But getting into some hot water with Sternberg. The director sent her to have a talk with Chaplin himself about her irresponsibility in not talking her job seriously enough. But instead of a reprimand, Chaplin saw a star and decided to place her in a few bit parts of his films.
Once she made an impact, White often drew comparisons to another famous flapper, Clara Bow, some called her "the next Clara Bow." Because at the time, Bow's star was starting fall due to the advent of the talkies. But White was succeeded where Bow could not. Her film, "Broadway Babies" (1929) was a blockbuster, which lead to her next box office smash, "Showgirl in Hollywood" (1930). In which, her character inspired the Dixie Dugan comic strip.
But in 1931, although White won at popularity with audiences, she took serious criticism to her acting ability and briefly retired to work on her skills.
Two years later, she returned in the midst of Hollywood's major overhaul. Its stars were under the microscope after protests and campaigns sparked around the country against Hollywood and its sinful films filled with sex and violence. Although some who have investigated her short-lived return believe there may have been something more going on than what was reported in the papers.
But unfortunately, it looks like Hollywood's changing landscape was not benefiting White's comeback. Soon after her return, a scandal erupted between her boyfriend/actor Jack Warburton and screenwriter Sy Bartlett. There was a public fight that occurred between White and Warburton where the actress ended up badly beaten. So badly beaten that she needed reconstructive surgery to the features on her face, especially her nose. Shortly after, it was reported that two men attacked Warburton and it was assumed that Bartlett sent the men after he had found out about the abuse done to White. Bartlett was charged with assault but the charges were dropped. Unfortunately, when the stories hit the newspapers, it destroyed White's reputation.
By 1938, White's opportunities for supporting roles had stopped and she was forced to retire. But she had not forgotten about her career and the impact she had on film. In an interview that occurred late in her life, White would see the influence of her persona in Marilyn Monroe, remarking, "Look at how Marilyn Monroe walks! That's an Alice White walk!"
On February 19, 1983, White passed away of a stroke and unfortunately, like most glamor stars of the 20s and 30s, most of her films are lost. Of the surviving footage, there is a lively, vivacious girl onscreen. She charms us, which lends to a certain "It" factor unique to her persona that makes us wonder, 'What if?'
Now, we may look to her ascendants such as Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe to witness the kind of success that may have been achieved by Alice White. Fortunately, White is not entirely forgotten. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to Motion Pictures and her legacy continues in the curious minds of classic film fans and filmophiles everywhere.