Nationality: American. Born: Greenridge, Illinois, 4 March 1889. Family: Married 1) the actor Victor C. Sutherland, 1907 (divorced 1914); 2) the actor Wallace McCutcheon Jr., 1919 (divorced 1921). Career: Stage debut at age of 6 as Little Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin; toured with parents in midwest stock companies; 1902–09—performed with equestrian circus act; 1909—serious riding injury, then secretary at Powers Pictures; 1910—film debut in role requiring horseback riding in The Life of Buffalo Bill; then made Westerns under director James Young Deer (total of about 100 one- and two-reelers); 1911—joined Lubin company, making about 20 films; 1912–13—in Universal comedies directed by Joseph Golden; 1913—toured Europe for two months; on return signed by Charles Pathé; 1914—release of first serial, The Perils of Pauline; 1915—extraordinary success of The Exploits of Elaine established international reputation; 1920—contract with Fox; 1922—appeared at Casino de Paris in acrobatic sketch; suffered injury; attempt to resume making serials: Plunder poorly received; retired to France; 1924—last film appearance in 1924 serial made in France. Died: At French estate, 4 August 1938.
Films as Actress:
(in one- and two-reelers directed by Joseph Golden—partial listing)
The Life of Buffalo Bill (three reels); The New Magdalene; The Maid of Niagara; The Yankee Girl; Sunshine in Poverty Row
Tommy Gets His Sister Married; Her Photograph; The Motor Friend; A Summer Flirtation; The Hoodoo; How Rastus Gets His Turkey; Home, Sweet Home; His Birthday;The Stepsisters; The Dressmaker's Bill; The Girl Next Room; Oh! Such a Night; Love's Renunciation; Her Little Slipper; Mayblossom
(directed by Donald Mackenzie)
The Lost Necklace; The Unforeseen Complication; Angel Out of the Slums; For Honor of the Name; Helping Him Out; Locked Out; The Quarrel
(Westerns directed by James Young Deer)
The Coward; Honoring a Hero; Winonah's Vengeance; The Flaming Arrow; Message of the Arrow; For Massa's Sake; Love Molds Labor; A Daughter of the South; The Rival Brother's Patriotism; Gun o' Gunga Din; Prisoner of the Mohican; The Compact; The Governor's Double
(series of about 20 films for Lubin Company, under direction of Joseph Smiley, John Ince, or Wilbert Melville)
(directed by Joseph Golden)
The Chorus Girl; A Tangled Marriage; The Mind Cure; His Wife's Stratagem; The Visitor; Belle's Beau; Heroic Harold; Her Kid Sister; Pearl's Admirers; With Her Rival's Help; Accident Insurance; Strictly Business; That Other Girl; A Night in Town; Knights and Ladies; Who Was the Goat?; Lovers Three; The Drummer's Notebook; Pearl asa Clairvoyant; Her Twin Brother; The Veiled Lady; Our Parents-in-Law; Two Lunatics; Pearl as a Detective; When Love Is Young; His Awful Daughter; Where Charity Begins; Mary's Romance; The New Typist; A Call from Home; Will Power; The Girl Reporter; Who Is in the Box?; An Hour of Terror; True Chivalry; Muchly Engaged; Pearl's Dilemma; College Chums; The Hallroom Girls; The Broken Spell; What Papa Got; Oh! You Scotch Lassie!; A Child Influence; Starving for Love; Pearl and the Tramp; Caught in the Act; A Greater Influence; His Aunt Emma; That Crying Baby; Pearl's Hero; The Convict's Daughter; A Woman's Revenge; Girls Will Be Boys; The Cabaret Singer; Her Secretary; Oh! You Pearl!; His Rich Uncle; Robert's Lesson; Willie's Great Scheme; Pearl and the Poet; Pearl's Mistake; The Ring; Oh! You Puppy!; A Father's Devotion; A Grateful Outcast; Getting Reuben Back; Mr. Sweeney's Master-piece; Lizzie and the Iceman; Willie's Disguise; Oh! You Mummy!; Going Some; Her New Hat; Pearl and the Burglars; Easy Money; A Telephone Engagement; The Bunch That Failed; Cops Is a Business; What Pearl's Pearl Did; A Lady in Distress; The Dancing Craze; Her Necklace; The Book Agents; Some Collectors; The Maniac's Desire; East Lynne in Bugville; The Lady Doctor; The Tell Tale Brother; The Masher; A Girl in Pants; Shadowed
(directed by Donald Mackenzie)
The Perils of Pauline (serial); Detective Swift; Ticket of Leave Man; The Stolen Birthright; The Warning; The Phantom Thief; The Hand of Destiny; The House of Mystery; Detective Craig's Coup; A Pearl of the Punjab
The Exploits of Elaine (serial); The New Exploits of Elaine (serial); The Romance of Elaine (serial)
The Iron Claw (José and Seitz—serial); The King's Game (Seitz); Annabel's Romance (Gasnier); Hazel Kirke (Gasnier); Pearl of the Army (José—serial)
The Fatal Ring (Seitz—serial)
The House of Hate (Seitz—serial); The Lightning Raider (Seitz—serial)
Black Secret (Seitz—serial)
The White Moll (Millarde); The Dark Mirror (Giblyn); Black Is White (Giblyn); The Thief (Giblyn); A Virgin Paradise (Dawley)
The Mountain Woman (Giblyn); Tiger's Cub (Giblyn and Millarde); Know Your Men (Giblyn); Singing River (Giblyn)
By WHITE: book—
Just Me (autobiography), New York, 1930.
By WHITE: articles—
"Putting It Over," in Motion Picture Magazine, February 1917.
"Why I Like to Work for Uncle Sam," in Pictures and Picturegoer, 5 October 1918.
On WHITE: books—
Lahue, Kalton, Continued Next Week, Oklahoma, 1964.
Weltmann, Manuel, and Raymond Lee, Pearl White: The Peerless, Fearless Girl, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1969.
Mitry, Jean, Pearl White, Paris, 1969.
Barbour, Alan G., Days of Thrills and Adventures, New York, 1970.
Stedman, Raymond, The Serials: Suspense and Drama by Installment, Norman, Oklahoma, 1971.
Harmon, Jim, and Donald Glut, The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury, New York, 1972.
Barbour, Alan, Cliffhangers: A Pictorial History of the Motion Picture Serial, New York, 1977.
On WHITE: articles—
Condon, Mabel, "The Real Perils of Pauline," in Photoplay (New York), October 1914.
Eyck, John Ten, "Speaking about Pearls," in Photoplay (New York), September 1917.
Smith, Frederick, "A Pearl in the Rough," in Motion Picture Classic (Brooklyn), January 1919.
Howe, Herbert, "A Star in Search of Her Soul," in Photoplay (New York), June 1923.
Stainton, Walter, "Pearl White in Ithaca," in Films in Review (New York), May 1951.
Davies, W. E., "Truth about Pearl White," in Films in Review (New York), November 1959, also letter from F. L. Smith in issue for December 1959.
Smith, Frank, "Pearl White and Ruth Roland," in Films in Review (New York), December 1960.
Lacassin, Francis, "Les Périls de Justine," and "Pour l'amour d'Elaine," by Robert Florey, in Cinéma (Paris), no. 79, 1963.
Park, James, in Films in Review (New York), February 1988.
Brock, Alan, "Pearl White Returns," in Classic Images (Muscatine), December 1994.
Katchmer, George, "Remembering the Great Silents," in Classic Images (Muscatine), January 1996.
Braff, R.E., "Pearl White Filmography," in Classic Images (Muscatine), July 1997.
Golden, E., "Little White Lies: The Elusive Life of Pearl White," in Classic Images (Muscatine), July 1997.
* * *
No one is more closely associated with the serial genre than Pearl White, and few actresses of the silent era are as well known today. Yet White was not the first to star in serials, and she was barely adequate as an actress. Rather, White starred in two of the most famous of all serials, The Perils of Pauline and The Exploits of Elaine, which stand up better in memory than on viewing, and she had such an infectious personality, so full of fun, so lacking in temperament, that audiences could easily relate to her. Certainly her initial popularity owed much to the sponsorship of her serials by the Hearst newspaper chain and to the songs, notably "Poor Pauline," that her serials inspired.
Like all major personalities, she invented much about her life, particularly in her autobiography Just Me, creating an image to which the public could relate. It was as a comedienne that White first made her mark on screen, looking rather buxom and saucy, and it was a comic element that lay just under the surface in many of her serials. Unlike her two major competitors, Ruth Roland and Kathlyn Williams, she was both trim and attractive. Although apparently wearing a wig, White's blonde hair added to what today might be described as her sex appeal.
From serials White tried unsuccessfully to move on to features with the William Fox Company, but she was hampered by poor scripts and lackluster direction. She went to live in France, but ill health and added weight put an end to her career. It is worth noting that, despite her fame, she never set foot in California, making virtually all of her films in the New York area.