Pearl White

Pearl White

Pearl Fay White, (March 4, 1889, Green Ridge, Missouri - August 4, 1938, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) was an American film actress; the so-called "Stunt Queen" of silent films, most notably "The Perils of Pauline".

Early life

Pearl White was born in Green Ridge, Missouri, and lived on a small farm with her four brothers and sisters. She was the youngest child of the family. Her parents moved to the town of Springfield, Missouri, where she had a normal childhood, growing up with a developing interest in the theater.

She obtained a role with the Diemer Theater Company while in her second year of high school. In 1907, at the age of 18, she went on the road with the Trousedale Stock Company, working the evening shows while keeping her day job to help support her family. Before long she was able to join the company full time, touring with the group throughout the American Midwest. In 1907 she married fellow actor Victor Sutherland (1889-1968), but they soon separated and eventually divorced.

For several years she played a variety of small roles until she was spotted by the Powers Film Company in New York. She claimed to have also performed in Cuba for a time under the name of Miss Mazee, performing American songs in a dance hall. Her travels as a singer took her through South America performing in casinos and dance halls.

In 1910, she was having trouble with her throat, and her voice began to fail from the rigors of nightly theatrical performances. She made her debut in films that year, starring in a long series of one-reel dramas and comedies for the Powers Film Company in the Bronx, New York.

Career rise

In 1910, Pearl White was offered a chance by Pathé Frères to perform in "The Girl From Arizona", the French company's first American film produced at their new studio in Bound Brook, New Jersey. She then worked at Lubin Studios and several other of the independents until the Crystal Film Company in Manhattan, gave her top billing in numerous short films.

Having gained some degree of public recognition, in 1914 the Pathé director Louis J. Gasnier (1875-1963) offered Pearl White the starring role in "The Perils of Pauline", a film based on a story by playwright, Charles W. Goddard (1879-1951). The film was not about a helpless woman, but one where "Pauline" was the central character in a story involving considerable action, to which the athletic and unblinking Pearl White proved ideally suited.

"The Perils of Pauline" consisted of twenty episodes that enlarged upon the heroine-in-jeopardy cliffhanger style of film. An enormous box-office success, it made Pearl White a major celebrity and she was soon earning the astronomical sum of $3,000 a week. She followed this major achievement with an even bigger box-office winner, "The Exploits of Elaine".

While flying airplanes, racing cars, swimming across rivers, and other assorted feats, she did four more successful serials based on the same theme. For these action-packed films, Pearl White did much of her own dangerous stunt work and as a result she suffered a number of injuries that forced her to use a stunt double in her later films.


By 1919, Pearl White was a wealthy young woman when she met and married World War I veteran Major Wallace McCutcheon, Jr. (1880-1928), who had become an actor, director and cinematographer. However, this marriage also did not last and they divorced in 1921. Two years later White made her last American film.

Influenced by the French friends she made while working for Pathé, and as one who appreciated different cultures, Pearl White was drawn to the gathering of artistic genius in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris. While living there, she made her last film for her friend, the Belgian-born director Edward José (1880-1930), who had directed her in several serials. Silent films could be made in any country, and because White was a highly recognizable star worldwide, she was offered many roles in France but chose to perform live on stage in a Montmartre production called, "Tu Perds la Boule" (You Lost the Ball). Enjoying this type of performance, in 1925 she accepted an offer to star with comedian Max Wall in the "London Review" at the Lyceum Theatre in London.

Pearl White's childhood poverty made her frugal with money. A shrewd businesswoman, she invested in a successful Parisian nightclub, a Biarritz resort hotel/casino, plus a profitable stable of thoroughbred race horses. Living in a fashionable town house in the exclusive Parisian suburb of Passy, she also owned a villa in Rambouillet.

The former 'poor girl' from Missouri hobnobbed with the elite of European society, and in time became involved with Greek businessman, Theodore Cossika, who shared her interest in travel. Together they acquired a home near Cairo, Egypt, and White further expanded her cultural horizons by touring with her companion throughout the Middle East and the Orient.

In 1923, after having earned and saved millions of dollars, she retired to France. She came out of retirement to make one additional film, "Terror" (1924).

In Paris she resurfaced again to star in several popular stage reviews at the Montmartre Music Hall. She was later seen in London in a revue with George Carney, then drifted happily into a very wealthy retirement.

Pearl White's entire motion picture career was in the silent era. She never appeared in a talking picture.

Alcoholism and death

Over the years, White's alcohol use increased substantially, possibly in an attempt to numb the chronic pain from the injuries resulting from her film stunts. In 1933 she had to be hospitalized, which led to an addiction to the drugs used to lessen her suffering. Her last few years were spent in a painful alcoholic haze, and she died from cirrhosis at age 49 on August 4, 1938 in the American Hospital in the Paris suburb of Neuilly, France. She was buried in the Cimetière de Passy.


Pearl White's place in film history is seen as a benchmark in the evolution of both cinema genres and the role of women. "The Perils of Pauline" is only known to exist in a reduced 9-reel version released in Europe in 1916, but "The Exploits of Elaine" still exists and has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. All her films were made at East Coast studios, and it is believed White never visited Hollywood, which would honor her contributions to the film industry with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The 1947 Paramount Pictures film "The Perils of Pauline", starring Betty Hutton, is a fictionalized biography of White.


*"The Girl from Arizona (1910)
*"The Missing Bridegroom (1910)
*"Tommy Gets His Sister Married (1910)
*"The Horse Shoer’s Girl (1910)
*"The Burlesque Queen (1910)
*"The Matinee Idol (1910)
*"The Hoodoo (1910)
*"The Music Teacher (1910)
*"A Summer Flirtation (1910)
*"A Woman’s Wit (1910)
*"The New Magdalene (1910)
*"The Woman Hater (1910)
*"When the World Sleeps (1910)
*"The Maid of Niagara (1910)
*"Her Photograph (1910)
*"Helping Him Out (1911)
*"The Angel of the Slums (1911)
*"The Stepsisters (1911)
*"His Birthday (1911)
*"Memories of the Past (1911)
*"Through the Window (1911)
*"A Prisoner of the Mohicans (1911)
*"For Massa’s Sake (1911)
*"Love Molds Labor (1911)
*"Terms of the Will (1911)
*"Love’s Renunciation (1911)
*"The Reporter (1911)
*"The Lost Necklace (1911)
*"Her Little Slipper (1911)
*"The Power of Love (1911)
*"Home Sweet Home (1911)
*"For the Honor of the Name (1912)
*"The Arrowmaker’s Daughter (1912)
*"The Hand of Destiny (1912)
*"Pals (1912)
*"The Girl in the Next Room (1912)
*"The Man from the North Pole (1912)
*"McQuirk, the Sleuth (1912)
*"Her Dressmaker’s Bills (1912)
*"The Only Woman in Town (1912)
*"Bella’s Beaus (1912)
*"A Pair of Fools (1912)
*"The Blonde Lady (1912)
*"Oh, Such a Night! (1912)
*"The Gypsy Flirt (1912)
*"Her Old Love (1912)
*"The Chorus Girl (1912)
*"The Quarrel (1912)
*"Locked Out (1912)
*"A Tangled Marriage (1912)
*"The Mind Cure (1912)
*"His Wife’s Stratagem (1912)
*"Her Visitor (1912)
*"Mayblossom (1912)
*"The Mad Lover (1912)
*"The Life of Buffalo Bill (1912)
*"Her Kid Sister (1913)
*"A Night at the Club (1913)
*"Heroic Harold (1913)
*"The Fake Gas-Man (1913)
*"A Dip Into Society (1913)
*"Pearl’s Admirers (1913)
*"The False Alarm (1913)
*"Accident Insurance (1913)
*"With Her Rival’s Help (1913)
*"Box and Cox (1913)
*"Her Lady Friend (1913)
*"Strictly Business (1913)
*"An Awful Scare (1913)
*"That Other Girl (1913)
*"Schultz’s Lottery Ticket (1913)
*"An Innocent Bridegroom (1913)
*"Ma and the Boys (1913)
*"Knights and Ladies (1913)
*"Who is the Goat? (1913)
*"Lovers Three (1913)
*"His Twin Brothers (1913)
*"The Drummer’s Note Book (1913)
*"Pearl as a Clairvoyant (1913)
*"Forgetful Flossie (1913)
*"The Veiled Lady (1913)
*"Our Parents-In-Law (1913)
*"Two Lunatics (1913)
*"His Romantic Wife (1913)
*"A Joke on the Sheriff (1913)
*"Where Charity Begins (1913)
*"When Love is Young (1913)
*"Pearl as a Detective (1913)
*"Oh! Whiskers! (1913)
*"His Awful Daughter (1913)
*"Our Willie (1913)
*"Homlock Shermes (1913)
*"Toodleums (1913)
*"A Supper for Three (1913)
*"Mary’s Romance (1913)
*"The New Typist (1913)
*"False Love and True (1913)
*"Her Joke on Belmont (1913)
*"A Call from Home (1913)
*"The Smuggled Laces (1913)
*"Who is in the Box? (1913)
*"The Paper Doll (1913)
*"An Hour of Terror (1913)
*"Muchly Engaged (1913)
*"The Girl Reporter (1913)
*"Pearl’s Dilemma (1913)
*"The Hall-Room Girls (1913)
*"The Broken Spell (1913)
*"College Chums (1913)
*"What Papa Got (1913)
*"A Child’s Influence (1913)
*"True Chivalry (1913)
*"Starving for Love (1913)
*"Oh! You Scotch Lassie (1913)
*"Pearl and the Tramp (1913)
*"The Greater Influence (1913)
*"Caught in the Act (1913)
*"That Crying Baby (1913)
*"His Aunt Emma (1913)
*"Much Ado About Nothing (1913)
*"Lost in the Night (1913)
*"Some Luck (1913)
*"Pleasing Her Husband (1913)
*"A News Item (1913)
*"A Night in Town (1913)
*"Misplaced Love (1913)
*"Pearl and the Poet (1913)
*"His Last Gamble (1913)
*"Dress Reform (1913)
*"The Woman and the Law (1913)
*"Hearts Entangled (1913)
*"Willie’s Great Scheme (1913)
*"Robert’s Lesson (1913)
*"The Rich Uncle (1913)
*"A Hidden Love (1913)
*"When Duty Calls (1913)
*"Oh! You Pearl (1913)
*"Her Secretaries (1913)
*"The Cabaret Singer (1913)
*"Hubby’s New Coat (1913)
*"The Convict’s Daughter (1913)
*"A Woman’s Revenge (1913)
*"Pearl’s Hero (1913)
*"First Love (1913)
*"The Soubrette (1913)
*"The Heart of an Artist (1913)
*"The Lure of the Stage (1913)
*"The Kitchen Mechanic (1913)
*"Will Power (1913)
*"Through Air and Fire (1913)
*"Girls Will be Boys (1913)
*"The Lifted Veil (1914)
*"Shadowed (1914)
*"The Ring (1914)
*"It May Come to This (1914)
*"The Shadow of a Crime (1914)
*"Oh! You Puppy (1914)
*"A Grateful Outcast (1914)
*"What Didn’t Happen to Mary (1914)
*"For a Woman (1914)
*"Getting Reuben Back (1914)
*"A Sure Cure (1914)
*"McSweeney’s Masterpiece (1914)
*"Lizzie and the Iceman (1914)
*"The Perils of Pauline (1914)
*"The Lady Doctor (1914)
*"Get Out and Get Under (1914)
*"A Telephone Engagement (1914)
*"The Dancing Craze (1914)
*"Her New Hat (1914)
*"The Girl in Pants (1914)
*"What Pearl’s Pearls Did (1914)
*"Willie’s Disguise (1914)
*"Was He a Hero? (1914)
*"The Hand of Providence (1914)
*"East Lynne in Bugville (1914)
*"Some Collectors (1914)
*"Pearl’s Mistake (1914)
*"Oh! You Mummy (1914)
*"A Father’s Devotion (1914)
*"The Exploits of Elaine (1914)
*"The Mashers (1914)
*"Going Some (1914)
*"Easy Money (1914)
*"The New Exploits of Elaine (1915)
*"The Romance of Elaine (1915)
*"A Lady in Distress (1915)
*"Hazel Kirke (1916)
*"The Iron Claw (1916)
*"Out of the Grave (1916)
*"Pearl of the Army (1916)
*"Mayblossom (1917)
*"The Fatal Ring (1917)
*"The House of Hate (1918)
*"The King’s Game (1918)
*"The Lightning Raider (1919)
*"The Black Secret (1919)
*"The White Moll (1920)
*"The Tiger’s Cub (1920)
*"The Thief (1920)
*"The Mountain Woman (1921)
*"Know Your Men (1921)
*"Beyond Price (1921)
*"A Virgin Paradise (1921)
*"Any Wife (1922)
*"The Broadway Peacock (1922)
*"Without Fear (1922)
*"Plunder (1923)
*"Terror (1924)


*"The Perils of Pauline" (1914)
*"The Exploits of Elaine" (1914)
*"The New Exploits of Elaine" (1915)
*"The Romance of Elaine" (1915)
*"The Iron Claw" (1916)
*"Pearl of the Army" (1916)
*"The Fatal Ring" (1917)
*"The House of Hate" (1918)
*"The Lightning Raider" (1919)
*"Plunder" (1923)
*"Perils of Paris" (1924)


* "" by David W. Menefee. Connecticut: Praeger, 2004. ISBN 0-275-98259-9.

*"Ladies in Distress." By Kalton C. Lahue. New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1971.

*"Reconsidering Pearl." By Adelle Whitely Fletcher in "Motion Picture Magazine," February, 1921.

External links

* [ Pearl White] - Biography on (re)Search my Trash
*imdb name|id=0925310|name=Pearl White
* [ Literature]

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