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Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Life and Death of Marjorie White

Like most Pre-code starlets not much is known about their lives before and after stardom. The tiny star, Marjorie White, was no different. She breezed into Hollywood in 1929 when motion picture audiences demanded high energy all dancing, all singing films and tragically passed away just five years later. She came to the public's attention after scoring a major role in Sunnyside Up (1929) and continued her success in futuristic film Just Imagine (1930). However, the blonde fire cracker never received the level of stardom her talent deserved perhaps due to her early death aged just 31.
The first born of a grain merchant, Marjorie Ann Guthrie was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on July 22 1904. Showing an early interest in performing, White capitalised on the huge success of vaudeville by joining the Winnipeg Kiddies troupe aged about 10. The group toured around Canada and the United States during the war years, with White reportedly being one of the standout singers and dancers of the troupe.

When she reached 16, White went to San Francisco and met Thelma Wolpa who would later become her vaudeville partner. After touring for a time, they pair changed their last names to White and became a successful duo act named, "The White Sisters". Thelma also went onto to have film successes most notably as Mae in the exploitation drama Reefer Madness (1935). Coincidently, after both Thelma and Marjorie become actresses, fan magazine claimed both were biological sisters.

Happy Days
In mid-1924, White aged 20 married Eddie Tierney and begin appearing in musicals on Broadway. With the coming of sound, White and Tierney moved to Hollywood where White was recruited to Fox studios. She didn't change much from her vaudevillian persona for Hollywood, except for her age which was bumped down to 21 instead of her real age of 25. She received a starring role as Margie in musical Happy Days (1929).

White hit the big time in her following film, co-starring with Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell in Sunnyside Up (1929). Gaynor was just coming off an Oscar win for her collective work in 7th Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928) and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and was a major global icon. Not to be outdone by the more popular star, critics and audiences alike commended White’s performance. She was described by fan magazines as a "sensational find" as well as a "rare comedienne, with a dynamic personality that marks her as a real actress". Another continued:
One of the most promising of the younger talent, Marjorie White, who made a snappy Bee in Sunnyside Up, and brought in her basket full of chortles in Happy Days. Marjorie prefers to do comedy parts and apparently has no hankering after drama.
Her star on the rise, White scored major roles as Vera Fontaine in New Movietone Follies of 1930 (1930) and as D-6 in the quirky futuristic comedy/ musical Just Imagine (1930).
More Happy Days
Just Imagine
However, like so many talented starlets, her true potential was never realised. In her four remaining years, White appeared in small parts in both A and B films. She appeared as Sadie in one of the cult Charlie Chan films, Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) and followed this with small roles in Broadminded (1931) and alongside Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in drama Possessed (1931). She managed to complete a cameo appearance in all-star short Hollywood Halfbacks (1931), before being involved in a car accident on December 17, 1931. An omen of events to come, she and Tierney were seriously injured when a taxi in which she was riding collided with another car. According to Tierney, White was appearing at a Philadelphia theatre and was going from the theatre to a radio station when the crash happened. She suffered three broken ribs and bruising.
Possessed
After the accident, White took a short break from films, breaking her hiatus with an appearance in the racy Wheeler and Woolsey comedy, Diplomaniacs (1933). She appeared on screen two more times - once in Three Stooges Woman Haters (1934) - before another car accident ended her life.
White and the Stooges
On August 20, 1935, in Santa Monica, White was a passenger in a car driven by Marlow Lovell that sideswiped a couple, Mr and Mrs Charles Marchesi, who had been married only an hour before. The car overturned and White was the only person seriously injured. Doctors initially thought she was not in danger, however, her condition worsened rapidly and she died of internal haemorrhaging the next day at a Hollywood hospital. She was buried at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery. It was found that Lovell's reckless driving was to blame for the accident. Her husband, her parents Robert and Nettie, and siblings Orville, Morley, Stewart, and Belva survived her. Another example of a beautiful, talented actress that never received the credit or stardom due to them.

7 comments:

  1. Very nice article. I always thought White outshone everyone when she was on screen. Incredibly appealing, live wire personality. Very tragic loss.

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  2. Thanks for sharing what little is known about Marjorie White. I've seen several films of this diminutive dynamo and just adore her! WOMAN HATERS was her final film, and she actually got top billing over the Stooges.

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  3. Thank you for this wonderful tribute! I had never heard of Marjorie before but now I'm going to watch some of her films. Her death was such a horrible tragedy :-(

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  5. She was SO good in Woman Haters - it's too bad the Stooges never were able to perform with her again - they would have made a great team going forward

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  6. For more on her life: https://marjoriewhiteblog.wordpress.com/

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