Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Remember Jesse White?

The able character actor, known for years as the Maytag repairman, was from Akron. An early commercial is above. His 1997 obituary is after the jump.

Character actor Jesse White, who grew up in Akron and went on to fame as the nation's loneliest repairman, has died. He was 79.
A spokeswoman for Cedars Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, Calif., said Mr. White died of cardiac arrest Wednesday night, after surgery for an undisclosed ailment.
For 21 years, Mr. White endeared himself to millions as the lonely Maytag repairman in television ads. He portrayed a frustratingly bored man who never had anything to do because Maytags just don't break down, according to the commercials.
It was one of the longest-running advertising campaigns on television. Mr. White made the Maytag repairman a symbol of dependability. He gave up his "Old Lonely" role in 1988.
Mr. White had acted in several Broadway plays, four television series and more than 60 films.
His big break came when he landed the role as a frantic sanitarium orderly in the Broadway production of Harvey.
He later starred in the movie version of Harvey with James Stewart, who played Elwood P. Dowd, a man who saw and talked to a 6-foot, 3 1/2-inch invisible white rabbit.
Mr. White graduated in 1936 from West High School in Akron. He also had attended South High School. His name then was Jess Weidenfeld.
Mr. White's family in Akron was in the jewelry and beauty supply businesses. He left Akron in 1942.
He began his stage career in Akron, appearing in productions at Weathervane and Coach House theaters and on local radio stations. He then moved on to movies, Broadway, Kenley Players productions and the Maytag repairman role on television.
Mr. White planned to return to Akron in 1985 to help Weathervane commemorate 50 seasons of community theater, but was unable to.
He was inducted into the Akron Radio Hall of Fame in 1987, but was not present for the ceremonies.
Mr. White had returned to Akron to perform in Kenley shows at the Akron Civic Theatre and E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
Francia Albrecht of Akron, who had acted with White in a play, Stage Door, at the old Akron YWCA, said Mr. White "was a very talented individual. He was a true professional. He was always very nice and kind."
Mr. White visited the Albrecht home in 1978 to take part in a "Helping Hands" tea for the United Way-Red Cross campaign.
He was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and moved to Akron with his family as a child.
A veteran of vaudeville and burlesque, Mr. White reached Broadway in 1944 with his supporting role in Harvey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase.
Often cast as a cigar-chomping, whiny-voiced thug, and sometimes as a pushy agent, Mr. White also appeared in such films as Bedtime for Bonzo, Marjorie Morningstar and Death of a Salesman.
His television series credits included agent Cagey Calhoun in the 1950s show Private Secretary; Oscar Pudney in The Ann Sothern Show; and Jesse Leeds, the agent of Danny Thomas, in Make Room for Daddy.
His last film role was in 1993's Matinee, starring John Goodman.
Ill health in the last years of his life kept him from working steadily.
For his entry in Who's Who in America, White supplied this quote:
"At age 7, I knew what I wanted in life -- to bring a little laughter and joy to the world. I've been blessed twice -- to be able to do the thing I know and do best and to make a decent and respectable living at it. I have had a good life in show business and feel sorry for people who are not in it."
Mr. White was married in 1942 to Cecelia Kahn and had two daughters, Carole and Janet.

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